LAUSD Tests Prototype For School Performance Framework That Emphasizes Student Growth

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LAUSD is testing a prototype of a new system to evaluate the performance of all L.A. public schools based on student academic achievement, academic growth, school climate and college and career readiness. The School Performance Framework, which stemmed from a resolution the Board passed last April, will have a soft launch in June and is expected to roll out fully in the fall. 

The model being tested, which LAUSD unveiled to a stakeholder working group in April, places the greatest weight (40%) on growth in students’ math and English scores on Smarter Balanced (SBAC) standardized tests.

“Growth is a large portion of the School Performance Framework, and that came directly from feedback at stakeholder meetings,” said LAUSD’s senior executive director of strategy and innovation, Derrick Chau, who has been leading the working group made up of labor leaders, district staffers, parents, school leaders and education nonprofit leaders, including Katie Braude, the executive director of Speak UP. “Folks wanted to make sure that schools receive credit for helping students improve.”

Board Member Kelly Gonez (BD6) said that part of her impetus for authoring the School Performance Framework resolution with Board Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4) was to address the fact that the state’s school rating system, the California School Dashboard, doesn’t measure student academic growth. 

“Some of our schools have incoming students who are behind, but achieve multiple years of learning [in a single year] once at their new school,” she said. “Progress should absolutely be recognized and celebrated. The School Performance Framework emphasizes student growth so that our schools are meeting students where they are, and we are not penalizing schools serving our highest-needs populations of kids.” 

The proposed model also bases 30% of a school’s rating on academic achievement in elementary and middle school and 25% in high school. Academic achievement would not only include the percentage of students meeting or exceeding state academic standards but also reclassification rates for English Learners and graduation rates for high school students.  

Half of the weight for the academic achievement rating would be based on the performance of the entire student population, while half would be based on the performance of disadvantaged groups such as English Learners, African American students, low-income kids, students with disabilities, foster kids and homeless youth.

School climate would count for 30% of a school’s rating in elementary and middle school and 20% in high school. However, the initial model only measures two metrics of school climate: suspension rates, which are almost universally low and don’t provide much contrast between schools, and attendance rates. 

Some working group participants suggested that those two metrics don’t fully capture “school climate” and may unduly punish schools in disadvantaged areas where attendance rates are lower. They urged LAUSD to consider other factors in the school climate ratings, such as parent surveys. 

“We probably do need to beef up that school climate area, as well as some of our other metrics,” Chau said.

Board Member Kelly Gonez Sponsored the school performance framework to make up for shortcomings in the CA School Dashboard

Board Member Kelly Gonez Sponsored the school performance framework to make up for shortcomings in the CA School Dashboard

“Socio-emotional factors are critical to the success of a school, but they’re much harder to measure quantitatively,” Gonez added.   

One challenge in creating a uniform system for both district schools and charter schools is the fact that they may collect different data. “There’s a fairness piece,” Chau said. “We certainly don’t want to choose metrics that we have for the district but not for charter schools and vice versa.”

In additional to academic growth, student achievement and school climate, high schools will be measured for college and career readiness, which will count for 15% of its rating. The proposed model only includes a metric measuring the percentage of students who get a C or above in A-G courses, which means they are eligible to apply to four-year state universities in California. 

Some working group members suggested that access to AP courses and the percentage of students passing AP tests should also be included. LAUSD is now considering those changes and looking for ways to measure career readiness. 

The working group also debated whether high school growth scores will accurately reflect a high school’s performance, given that only 11th grade students take SBAC tests so student growth will be measured by comparing 8th and 11th grade scores.  

But Chau said that one ineffective teacher can skew a school’s annual growth scores so comparing student data over three years may actually be more accurate. “In some ways, it actually gives those schools more opportunity to improve and help those students.”

After all the metrics are calculated, LAUSD will give a school a score from 1-100 and will assign it to one of five performance bands depicted by a number of stars from one to five. Chau showed a preliminary draft of the design to the working group last month.

In that draft, the bottom 10 percent of schools will receive one star and the label “Intervene.” Two-star schools receive the “Focused Intervention” label, meaning they have some areas of solid performance but overall need support to improve. Three-star schools get a “Support Needed” label, meaning they have areas of strength and with targeted assistance should improve, while four-stars schools receive a label of “Achieving.” The top 10 percent of schools will receive five stars and the “Exemplar” label.

The working group also debated whether to report magnet programs within a school separately from the overall school. Performance can wary widely between a general school’s population and its magnet students. LAUSD is testing various scenarios. 

“We’re trying to make sure that whatever framework that we develop is not biased” against any type of school based on model, size or geography, Chau said.  

The district plans to use the school ratings to determine which schools need intervention and assistance, although what that intervention will look like remains unclear. The ratings will also help inform charter school renewals and oversight. 

But the main purpose of the School Performance Framework is to give parents the information they need to make informed choices about where they want to educate their kids. “When paired with a unified enrollment system—a priority of mine—this will make it easier for parents to access high quality schools and help drive the change needed to improve schools that may be struggling,” Melvoin said.

 “We expect that it will highlight some schools that are doing a lot to catch students up to grade level, which is not always captured by proficiency rates on SBAC,” Gonez said.