California’s continuous improvement accountability system brings many of these approaches together. It combines multiple measures of performance and a comprehensive framework for technical assistance/intervention with a broad use of data to identify the success of its demographic subgroups.

Section 8 of 10.

Not long ago, California used test scores as a single measure to identify progress, but policymakers sought to eliminate the state’s Academic Performance Index (API) system. When lawmakers adopted a new funding system, the state contracted with a research organization to develop new measures and rubrics. These are scheduled to be unveiled this year, though California leaders are still not clear what growth measures ought to look like, and will make the new measures advisory to districts.

The system is embedded in part in California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) that allocates all funds based on pupil needs. Weightings are based on a measure of poverty, language status, and foster care status. The state requires districts to provide, develop, and adopt—with parent and community involvement—an accountability plan that identifies goals and measures of progress across indicators of both opportunities and outcomes. Local districts can add their own indicators to those that are state required. Indicators must include:

  • Student achievement: State tests and other assessments (e.g., AP or IB tests, English proficiency)
  • Student persistence and graduation
  • Student inclusion (suspension and expulsion rates)
  • College and career-readiness indicators (access to and completion of curriculum pathways)
  • The availability of qualified teachers, adequate facilities, and necessary materials
  • Student access to a broad curriculum, including the core subjects (including science and technology), the arts, and physical education
  • Evidence of parent participation and opportunities for input.[11]

In addition, ten school districts in the state have used NCLB waivers to establish their own CI accountability system. The districts—known as CORE districts—including many of the state’s largest, educating more than one million students, or one-fifth of California’s entire student population. The districts have added additional measures of social and emotional learning and school climate that include chronic absenteeism, disproportionate special education identification, and student climate surveys.

The districts—which include the Clovis, Fresno, Garden Grove, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Sanger, and Santa Ana school districts—partnered with Stanford University’s John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities, the state school administrators organization, EdTrust West, WestEd, and other groups, to develop indicators of performance that have met key criteria and have been deemed reliable, valuable, and reasonably stable. In fact, a study released in March 2016 by Martin R. West of the Brookings Institution, examined the suitability of the Core Districts’ measures of four social-emotional skills. The study was based on the 2014-15 field test involving more than 450,000 students in grades 3-12. Starting this year, information from these measures will be publicly reported and is expected to be a small part (eight percent) of performance rating scores. The results are promising:

Analysis of data from the CORE field test indicates that the scales used to measure student skills demonstrate strong reliability and are positively correlated with key indicators of academic performance and behavior, both across and within schools. These findings provide a broadly encouraging view of the potential for self-reports of social-emotional skills as an input into its system for evaluating school performance. However, they do not address how self-report measures of social-emotional skills would perform in a high-stakes setting – or even with the modest weight that will be attached to them within CORE. The data currently being gathered by CORE provide a unique opportunity for researchers to study this question and others related to the role of schools in developing student skills and the design of educational accountability systems.[12]

[11] Darling-Hammond, L., Wilhoit, G., and Pettinger, L., pp. 4-5.

[12] West, M.R. (March 2016). Should non-cognitive skills be included in school accountability systems? Preliminary evidence from California’s CORE districts. Executive summary. Washington, DC:  Brookings Institution.