Waiver states could learn from CA’s CORE on ESSA

Waiver states could learn from CA’s CORE on ESSA

(Calif.) As most of the nation’s schools ponder the new goals set by the Every Child Succeeds Act, a group of districts in California might actually be putting the final touches on a major element of the transition.

The nine-district consortium, California Office to Reform Education – or CORE – is less than two weeks away from unveiling results of a new school rating system that combines test scores with data on an array of non-academic metrics to provide a holistic snapshot of how well students are being prepared for college and career.

Building and implementing a new accountability system by 2017 is perhaps the most challenging mandate imposed on the states by ESSA and the one that will likely cause the greatest anxiety.

“College and career readiness is not only about academic achievement,” said CORE’s executive director Rick Miller. “We actually have pretty good research to argue that for college persistence non-cognitive skills are as important if not more so than just academic achievement. So teaching these other skills and making sure that the whole child is paid attention to matters.”

Architects of the new accountability model, called the School Quality Improvement Index, hope it will paint a picture of where the nearly 1,500 schools in the system stand relative to each other and give administrators a clear look at those that need intervention.

“The data is showing us what we believe to be true, which is that looking at multiple measures gives you a much more appropriate and more nuanced look at the effectiveness of the schools,” said Miller.

The big day for CORE is Feb. 2 when it releases the first-time results for how students performed as measured by the new index. It comes well ahead of when Congress said all states need to accomplish the same feat as part of ESSA, which gives states much more authority and flexibility over education policy than was possible under the No Child Left Behind Act.

CORE, along with a majority of states, has been operating under a federal waiver program that offered relief from the demands of NCLB in exchange for a number of conditions – one of them was to create new systems for student achievement and school accountability. Texas, New Hampshire, Minnesota and New York are among those that have also developed more holistic school accountability models under the waiver umbrella and officials in those states have reported that they believe their systems align well with the goals of ESSA.

California was one of a handful of states that didn’t receive an NCLB waiver but CORE – which includes the schools of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Fresno, Oakland, Long Beach, Santa Ana, Garden Grove, Sanger and Sacramento – was the only district-level entity to request and receive the exemption.

Miller reports that the group not only believes its accountability index will allow its schools to meet federal reporting mandates but that it goes above and beyond those requirements in an effort to drastically improve student outcomes.

One example of that is in the way CORE schools now report and weigh student subgroup data. While most schools must account for achievement of student subgroups numbering 100 or more, CORE is disaggregating and reporting academic data on school subgroups with as few as 20 students – a move that means the performance of an additional 150,000 students who otherwise wouldn’t have been counted is included. In addition, subgroup and overall student performance are given equal weight when it comes to factoring the metrics in the index.    

CORE’s School Quality Improvement Index is broken into two domains, academic, which accounts for 60 percent of a school’s accountability score, and social-emotional/culture-climate factors, weighted at 40 percent.

The academic information is calculated using annual English and math assessment performance, year-to-year improvement – or growth – on assessments, high school graduation rates (including four, five and six-year cohorts) and eighth graders’ high school readiness. Because 2014-15 is the first, or baseline, year for the index, next fall’s release of 2015-16 data will show the actual academic growth for students.

Social-emotional and culture-climate factors include chronic absenteeism, suspension/expulsion and English learner re-designation rates as well as social-emotional skills and culture-climate ratings – the latter two determined by surveys of students, staff and parents.

Some 454,298 students completed the social-emotional/culture-climate surveys last spring, and two districts collected 2,700 teacher reports on approximately 71,000 students’ social-emotional skills, according to a CORE report on the index.

Every school’s report will include an index score between one and 10 on each of the individual metrics in both the academic and social-emotional domains, providing an easy reference as to how that school is performing in relation to similar schools within the network.

It is interesting to note that California’s Department of Education, in conjunction with the state board, has been working to develop its own new accountability system having discarded the Academic Performance Index in the wake of new funding and assessment systems.

Board members have said that rather than weighting and indexing various factors to come up with a single school score, however, they prefer a “dashboard” of metrics – one that includes academic performance and graduation rates because that data exists, but possibly allowing districts to use whatever mechanisms they have to show non-academic performance.

 “We feel like we’ve stepped up to a higher level of accountability and a system that helps us hold each other accountable and actually helps inform instruction and helps us get better,” Miller added. “There’s obviously concern that a new simplistic state model could push us back into a less rigorous accountability model.”