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State flunks in try to rank its schools

January 10, 2018

New report card comes in colors, not numbers; how MUSD out-pulls Clovis in at least one category


If the state wanted to tell parents how their children’s schools are performing in clear and certain terms, it missed the mark with its “Dashboard,” a new report card recently released by the California State Department of Education.


The new assessment tool shifts the focus away from English and math test scores to include other indicators such as graduation rates, progress made by English learners, suspension rates, college and career readiness, and chronic absenteeism. In addition, the state is using an imprecise spectrum of colors to report performance in these areas rather than the precision of numbers used to interpret earlier test scores.


In a press release issued in December, the Department of Education presented what it claimed was a new “easy-to-understand” school report card format. However, Babatunde Illori, Madera Unified’s executive director of accountability and communications, does not agree with the state’s characterization.


In an interview with The Tribune, Ilori said the new report card, with its colors instead of numbers, is confusing and difficult for the layperson to understand.


He also sees some irony in an “equity alert” issued by the state, which identifies 228 school districts as being in need of intervention, based upon the new assessment tool.


One such district, according to the Department of Education, is Clovis Unified, which has been identified as being in need of intervention. By the same token, Madera Unified has not been so identified.


The irony involves the difference in student performance between the two districts on the state’s annual English and math tests.


Taken as a whole, 70 percent of Clovis Unified students met the state’s standards in English language arts, and 57 percent made the mark in math last year. Yet, Clovis Unified has been targeted for outside intervention.


Madera Unified, on the other hand, scored considerably lower on the tests, yet was not tabbed for intervention by the state. In English language arts, Clovis outperformed Madera by 38 percent and in Math by 36 percent.


The CDE’s rationale for placing Clovis Unified on the intervention list lies in the fact that one of its subgroups, students with disabilities, did not meet expectations, notwithstanding the fact that Clovis Unified, taken as a whole, outperformed the state average in English by 21 percent and in math by 19 percent.


A similar comparison of Madera Unified with the state shows that Madera fell below the state average in English by 17 percent and in math by 17 percent.


The stated purpose of the change in assessment tools is ostensibly to show that school performance should be measured by more indicators than just test scores and that more attention should be directed toward the subgroups of students that traditionally experience difficulty in school.


The August 2017 state tests results revealed Madera Unified trailing most school districts in Fresno County and all of the districts in Madera County except Chowchilla Elementary in English and math scores.


Sacramento divided those scores into four levels: Exceeded Expectations, Met Expectations, Nearly Met Expectations, and Did Not Meet Expectations and gave the percentage of students in each category.


On the other hand, the new Dashboard report card assigned colors to each of the district’s performance indicators. Blue indicated the highest performance followed by green, orange, yellow, and red. The report did not make any correlation between the four levels of numbers on the earlier report card and the five colors on the new report card.


Madera Unified was colored yellow in every category except graduation rate, which drew a blue designation.

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