Charter organization fills gap with new school ranking system

Credit: Alison Yin / EdSource Sophomores attend chemistry class at Skyline High School in Oakland.Credit: Alison Yin / EdSource Sophomores attend chemistry class at Skyline High School in Oakland.The California Charter Schools Association released on Tuesday what the State Board of Education vowed it would not recreate: a statewide ranking of district and charter schools based on standardized test scores.
The association’s data tools re-establish what’s been missing since the state board did away with the Academic Performance Index, the state system that assigned each school a number between 200 and 1,000 based on standardized test results in multiple subjects.
   The charter association represents many of the state’s 1,230 charter schools. Its database lists more than 10,000 district and charter schools according to their scores on the first two years of the Smarter Balanced tests in English and math in grades 3 to 8 and grade 11. The schools are ranked from 1 to 10, with 10 the highest. A separate index compares schools to those with comparable populations of students; the API also provided this. ( The association’s school index page includes links to the State Ranks and Similar Schools Ranks Spreadsheet, the Statewide School Accountability Spreadsheet with additional measures, and background information.) 
“The Association believes it is important information for parents facing a decision on where to send their children to school and for districts deciding whether to renew a charter school,” said association spokeswoman Emily Bertelli. “Both need access to comprehensive data.”
RelatedBrown says it’s time to abandon API to judge schools’ performanceThe state board suspended the API three years ago. In September, the board approved a new system that will gauge school and district performance on 10 measures without combining all of the factors to create a summary number or grade or giving more emphasis to test scores. Performance on English language arts, math and eventually science tests will be one indicator along with student suspension and chronic absentee rates, success of English learners in learning English and a measure of high school students’ readiness for college and careers.
The state will issue its first multicolored school and district report cards early in 2017.
How much weight for test scores?
The state board has insisted that a display of multiple measures will give a richer, more informative picture of school performance, will better highlight disparities among groups of students and will point to specific areas that need attention.
But other advocacy organizations, such as the Children Now, and the federal Department of Education also have called for giving more weight to test results and an overall school ranking. In September, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed Assembly Bill 2548, despite near unanimous support in the Legislature, that would have required the state board to take this approach.
“People are looking for something that is simple and easily accessible in moving from the old system to the new,” said Arun Ramanathan, CEO of the school consulting organization Pivot Learning Partners. “If the state doesn’t provide it, then the charter schools association or a private company will. That’s the way data is.”
While looking at multiple measures of a school is important, charter schools are held to academic standards, said Elizabeth Robitaille, senior vice president of achievement and performance management for the charter schools association. The state law governing charter schools says district authorizers should make academic performance the primary factor in deciding whether to reauthorize a charter, she said. The similar schools index is particularly important for districts evaluating charters serving low-income students and English learners, she said.
She said the association has done similar schools analyses in past years, before the API was discontinued, and did not create a statewide database with the intent of showing that charter schools outperform district schools. A full analysis is several months away. However, the association will use the similar schools index as a factor in making its annual recommendation later this month on which low-performing schools should not have their charters renewed, she said.
The association’s index separately ranks a school’s scores in 2015 and 2016 but does not factor in growth in scores into the rankings. The state board’s measure of test scores will give equal weight to a school’s and district’s annual score and the average growth over three years. The state says that method will reveal schools with average scores that are stagnating and low-performing schools showing improvement.
However, Robitaille criticized the state’s narrow methodology for measuring a school’s scores and said the association’s method is an improvement. The state rates schools based on the percentage of students who achieve a score of proficiency or higher on math and English language arts tests. The association said this does not distinguish between students very far below proficient and those just shy or well above of the proficiency score.
Others have reached the same conclusion, and the state board, acknowledging the weakness, said it intends to change methodology next year. The California Office to Reform Education, or CORE, has not produced a statewide database of test scores, but has created a test score ranking index for its districts that combines growth and a more sophisticated look at school results.
Rick Miller, the executive director of CORE, called the charter association’s approach “a reasonable step in the interim” until better methods of analyzing statewide scores are developed.
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