LCUSD Receives ‘Very High’ Ratings in Education Performance

Photo by Mirjam Swanson / OUTLOOK La Cañada Unified School District will use data provided by the California School Dashboard system to assess growth in various areas.
Photo by Mirjam Swanson / OUTLOOK
La Cañada Unified School District will use data provided by the California School Dashboard system to assess growth in various areas.

The California Department of Education sent out report cards last week, and as usual, La Cañada Unified School District earned high marks. The district received the highest rating possible in nine of 11 measures that are intended to offer a thorough analysis of educational goals.
The new California School Dashboard report, released on Dec. 7, indicated that LCUSD students’ scores slipped slightly in some areas, but they still maintained “very high” performances in the prioritized areas of English language arts, mathematics, graduation rates and English-learning progress. The district’s low level of suspension rates increased slightly.
The Dashboard system features a five-tier rating of school and district achievement in various areas of priority. It’s color coded (blue is the highest, red the lowest) and is available to the public at caschooldashboard.org.
“The new Dashboard requires us to think and respond differently,” Superintendent Wendy Sinnette wrote in an email. “It is designed so that districts look inward and assess their current performance based on whether they have demonstrated growth over the prior year. For high-performing districts, a cycle of continuous improvement is always what we strive for, but it becomes an increasing challenge when the delta for growth is so narrow.”
Each district also tracks progress on four self-identified “local indicators.” LCUSD met the standard for “basics (teachers, instructional materials, facilities),” “implementation of academic standards,” “parent engagement” and “local climate survey.”
Dashboard is a departure from the Academic Performance Index, which used a single number between 200 and 1,000 to rate districts (determined through a complicated formula based solely on test scores).
LCUSD regularly placed among the top-performing districts in the state, according to API scoring, which was in use from 1999 through 2013, when the state transitioned to the Common Core State Standards.
Dashboard encourages districts to evaluate student performance internally over time rather than compare with other districts, according to Lindi Dreibelbis, chief director of assessment.
“It’s a strong improvement over the API because the API was based solely on academic state tests,” Dreibelbis said. “A comprehensive school district offers so much more to students than sheer academics. Certainly, high performance in academics is our goal, but I think that in order to have high performance, absenteeism can be an impact, suspensions can be an impact … it’s good that the state is looking at multiple measures.”
In a news release, the California Teachers Association agreed, writing that Dashboard, though more complicated and “a work in progress,” is “much improved from the old shame-and-blame accountability system, and the days when districts, schools and students were judged heavily on a single test score.”
“My fear,” Dreibelbis added, “is that the public may only look at the color and think the color paints a picture. It’s truly the underlying data that tells someone where we’re doing very well and where we may have pockets for improvement.”
In this latest report, LCUSD’s 98.5% graduation rate ticked up .6% as compared with the first Dashboard report that was released in February.
In English language arts, LCUSD students’ score of 84.2 points above the state target represented a 6.3-point decline from the previous rating — although the mark is considered “very high” because it was at least 45 points above that state target.
In mathematics across the district, a “very high” 78.6 points above the standard included a .2%-point decline.
The state compiled those English and mathematics scores by comparing California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress results from 2016 to 2017 only in grades 3-8, Dreibelbis said.
Meanwhile, English learner progress districtwide — a “very high” 94% — increased 2.9%. This indicator measures students’ progress on English language development state tests as well as the number of students who achieve fluency and are able to exit the English language development program, Dreibelbis said.
LCUSD’s lowest mark was related to its suspension rate, which increased .4% — just enough to identify it as a “medium” (yellow) progress score on the Dashboard even though the frequency of suspensions is considered low by the state.
“Had the increase only been .1% less, the district would have received a green rating,” Dreibelbis said.
On each of the districts campuses, there was a decline of between 2.2 and 10.1 points in English language arts scores. Still, LCUSD schools remain between 75.1 points (Paradise Canyon Elementary) and 88.1 points (La Cañada Elementary) above the state standard.
In mathematics, each of LCUSD’s schools achieved the highest blue rating except Palm Crest Elementary, which received green, one level below.
“This indicator is a good example of the complexity of this new system based on improvement,” Dreibelbis said. “Our performances are higher than some of our scores.”
She noted that PCR received a green rating because its score — 82.7 points above the state standard — fell by 5.4 points. Meanwhile, PCY maintained its score — 68.6 points above the state average — and received a blue rating because its scores did not decline.
The state also reported that 82.4% of LCHS students are prepared for college and careers, with another 7.9% approaching that “prepared” designation. That indicator is determined, in part, by the completion of college prep curriculum, passing one Advanced Placement test, meeting or exceeding 11th grade CAASPP English or math tests and completing a career technical education pathway.
Although not officially rated yet on Dashboard, LCUSD’s chronic absenteeism rate is 2.4%, significantly lower than the 11.1% rate throughout L.A. County and 10.8% across the state.
“Our school sites will need to study the metrics by sub-group and be very intentional in their approaches to raising the bar,” Sinnette said. “I appreciate that the Dashboard is comprised of multiple measures — that’s an improvement over the API — but it is a more complicated approach to accountability, and that will take some time to adjust to as an indicator of performance.
“As always, our students — supported by their teachers, our staff, and their parents — did an outstanding job.”

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