After months of debate, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has agreed to release student growth data from its public schools. What parents from other cities and states learn from this move could impact their children’s academic progress, too.
The LAUSD district had originally collected the data, which encompasses students’ academic progress year-to-year, as part of a proposed School Performance Framework. This model would have provided parents with rankings of LAUSD schools based on students’ proficiency levels compared to the previous year. In 2018, the LAUSD board voted 6-1 to approve the framework. However, after changes in membership, the board voted this year to block the framework, again 6-1.
Student Growth Data: A Different Way to Measure Progress
“California is one of only two states, along with Kansas, that does not provide this data to parents,” Jenny Hontz, communications director for Speak Up, a nonprofit focused on involving LA parents in education legislation says.
Since 2018, Speak Up has supported the implementation of a framework that would rank schools based on student growth. “That particular focus takes a look at how much students are progressing during the school year,” Hontz tells Parentology. “Kids might come in three years behind grade level, but if that school is doing an excellent job of helping those kids catch up, they might actually have two years of learning in one school year.”
Hontz says proficiency scores alone don’t necessarily reflect a student’s academic growth. “If you’re only looking at proficiency, you’re not capturing which schools are helping under-served kids make the most progress.”
A Surprising Reversal
The change in the board’s decision was prompted by concerns from its newly-elected vice president, Jackie Goldberg. It was the similarities between the School Performance Framework and “portfolio” models that have been instituted in other school districts that Goldberg noted.
A portfolio model allows parents to compare data between schools when deciding where to enroll. It also changes the role of school districts. Instead of setting school policy, districts police standards, including closing schools that don’t measure up. Critics of the model have alleged it unfairly favors charter schools.
“What has happened is the use of student growth has been taken to be a hammer to say that we need to close every school that’s not making student growth and re-open it as a charter school,” Goldberg said in a statement to the board.
Goldberg was concerned about the negative effect a ranking system could have on lower-ranking schools. “Any time you call a school a number one in a one-to-five-star program, or red when everyone else is blue or green, you’re calling schools bad schools,” Goldberg said. “When you do that, what you are saying to people is, ‘Get your kid out of there as fast as humanly possible.’”
She also expressed doubts that student growth data would be correctly interpreted by parents. “If your students are reading at the fifth percentile, and they go to the tenth percentile, they have a hundred percent improvement,” she said. “But if you went from 48% to 52%, which means now more than half of your students are meeting or exceeding [standards], that’s a very small percentage, you have almost no growth. That’s one of the problems of growth.”
Securing the Data
LAUSD ultimately voted down the School Performance Framework. However, parents continued to lobby for the release of the data gathered for the project. Speak Up launched a social media campaign with parents and 10 other organizations, including Parent Revolution and United Way. The goal: to pressure the district into releasing the data.
Eventually, the district agreed to make the growth data public. “We haven’t seen it yet, but we’re hoping to see it very soon,” Hontz says, “and we’re hoping it can help inform us about how well schools are doing, which schools are doing the best job helping kids make the most progress.”
The School Performance Framework may have been voted down. However, Speak Up hopes the data can still be used to help parents. “The reality is, we already have school rating systems, like greatschools.com, that parents do use widely,” Hontz points out, “but they didn’t have access to this data. So once this data is accessible, I would hope the ratings systems that currently exist will implement that data to provide a clearer picture of how our schools are performing.”
This week, LAUSD has released the student data on its school information website. Speak Up had also filed a request under the California Public Records Act to ensure the data’s release. With the release of this data, LA parents have one more tool in deciding where to send their children for school.