Decoding California’s new school dashboard reports

The Del Mar Union School District (DMUSD) got its first look of how it stacks up on the California School Dashboard Report, the state’s new color-coded way to display the performance of schools and diverse student populations.

With the new dashboard, a school’s performance is represented by colors blue, green, yellow, orange and red — blue being the strongest representing very high status level; red indicating very low. The dashboard measures the district’s performance for all schools in the district and in student groups of race/ethnicity, socioeconomically disadvantaged, English learners and students with disabilities in the state’s indicators of student test scores, English learner progress, chronic absenteeism, suspension rates and parent engagement.

This measurement system replaces the Academic Performance Index (API) which was solely based on test results.

DMUSD’s dashboard was heavy in the blue (very high) for its low suspension rates and high Smarter Balanced assessment test scores in English language arts (ELA) and math. They scored in the green (high) for English learner progress of 85.6 percent.

Overall the district’s performance on ELA was 86.2 points above level 3 and 76.8 points above level 3 in math.

The distance from level 3 measures how far each students score is from the lowest scale score. All students scale scores are compared to the fixed point of the “standard met” for their grade level. Once all the scores are compared to the fixed point, the distance results are averaged to produce a district-level average scale score and average scale score for each student group.

English learners were 59.4 points above level 3 in ELA and 66 points above level 3 in math. Status for DMUSD student groups, such as students with disabilities, socioeconomically disadvantaged and ethnic groups, was high to very high in ELA and math.

Trustee Scott Wooden said statistically, he found the dashboard a little meaningless. He said the small student group numbers will fluctuate from year to year and some districts will be made to look better and others worse.

DMUSD Assistant Superintendent Shelley Petersen said she understood his concern with the data.

“We have always looked at the standardized testing data as just one piece of information,” Petersen said. “With this and the way this is reported, it gives us a sampling and we really look deeper and put faces to those scores. Our principals take a deep dive into their school data by grade level and by classroom to see who are the students that we need to be paying attention to.

“I agree that the reports are somewhat challenging and districts will be compelled to use the data in the way that they can make meaning of.”

As an example, the dashboard showed that the very low .4 percent suspension rate was higher among the district’s 126 socioeconomically disadvantaged students. Petersen said what that shows them is they need to put names and faces on that data and ensure that schools have the appropriate programs in place so those students can be successful.

The dashboard data includes a five-by five placement report that provides an “at a glance” display on how a district or school is performing on the state indicators. The five colored tables show which schools or student groups are performing well or are in need of support and which schools have maintained their status, increased or declined.

In the five-by-five grid, Ashley Falls was the only school to report an increase by more than seven points on English language arts test scores.

Del Mar Heights, Del Mar Hills and Sage Canyon were in blue and Carmel Del Mar, Ocean Air, Sycamore Ridge and Torrey Hills were in the green for declining by one to 15 points in ELA.

DMUSD Trustee Kristin Gibson said that the report is very misleading because as a higher performing school, it’s much harder to increase. A school is said to be declining if they drop anywhere from one to 15 points but to increase, they have to increase by seven points.

Schools that are scoring double than the average scores are shown as “declining.” As an example, Ocean Air’s ELA scores were 105 points above level 3 and yet they fall into decline category.

“For me, there’s a discrepancy,” Petersen said. “I’m hoping that there’s some change to that because I don’t know that it accurately and fully reports a district’s performance and progress.”