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State education officials have just unveiled a brand new accountability and improvement system to show how California’s public schools are performing — and to track their progress over time.

It’s called the California School Dashboard, and you can access it now at www.caschooldashboard.org. Here are five things you need to know.

1. The new dashboard is aligned with California’s academic standards, but it goes way beyond test scores.

Published online, the California School Dashboard features an array of data to help parents, educators and the public evaluate the strengths and challenges of their schools and districts. The dashboard will also help determine which schools and districts require special assistance.

You might remember the old Academic Performance Index, which annually assigned each school a triple-digit score based largely on its standardized test scores. The California School Dashboard uses color-coded pie pieces and other gauges to present a more comprehensive set of metrics. While it will likely take a little more time to grasp, it’s expected to be more useful than the API to parents, educators and the public.

2. The dashboard is based on state and local performance indicators that might look familiar.

Rather than relying on a single number, the California School Dashboard displays scores based on about a dozen state and local indicators. These indicators are specifically aligned with 10 priority areas spelled out in the state’s overhauled funding formula. (The same priority areas are also embedded in the local accountability plans that are updated annually by districts and charter schools.)

The state indicators are:

  • Chronic absenteeism
  • Suspension rate
  • English learner progress
  • Graduation rate
  • College and career
  • Academic (English language arts and math)

State indicator results are based on how schools or subgroups performed overall (known as their “status”), as well as how much they improved or declined over a three-year period (referred to as “change”).

The local indicators are:

  • Appropriately assigned teachers, access to curriculum-aligned instructional materials and safe, clean and functional school facilities
  • Implementation of academic standards
  • Parent engagement
  • School climate
  • Coordination of services for expelled students (This applies to county offices of education only.)
  • Coordination of services for foster youth (Again, this is just for county offices of education.)

Unlike the state indicators, local indicators are self-reported by schools, districts and county offices based on locally available data.

3. The California School Dashboard relies on visual graphics to show performance and growth.

For the state indicators, color-coded pie pieces represent school and subgroup performance levels. Ranked from least favorable to most favorable, the performance levels are red (one slice), orange (two slices), yellow (three slices), green (four slices) and blue (a full pie).

You can learn more about how each color is assigned by visiting the California Accountability Model & School Dashboard webpage, but the general idea is that the colors are gauges that show how well the school or subgroup performed overall (status) and how much it improved or worsened over a three-year period (change).

Here’s a sample:

Example that shows the color-coded pie pieces in the new California School Dashboard
So, the imaginary school above would have boasted favorable suspension and graduation rates while producing low English scores and very low math scores.

Again, the scores above refer only to the seven state indicators. The local indicators are represented differently. Rather than using color-coded pie pieces, the dashboard notes whether each local goal has been “met,” “not met” or “not met for more than two years.”

4. It’s not just a tool for parents and the public. The California School Dashboard also serves as the basis for technical assistance.

Under the provisions of the Local Control Funding Formula — that’s the state’s K-12 funding mechanism — schools and districts will be eligible for technical assistance from their county office of education if certain performance benchmarks are not met over time. To learn more, refer to page 70 of the CDE’s Technical Guide for New Accountability System (PDF).

5. The state has published guides and other resources for those who want to dive a little deeper — and additional resources are coming.

Again, there’s a lot to digest here, and we’ve just covered a few of the basics. For those seeking more information, the California Department of Education has compiled a bunch of resources, including:

This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)