A new way to gauge student success

Here’s a question for you:Do you think the quality of a school should be measured solely by how well students perform on annual math and English tests?

We don’t think so either. That’s why the San Francisco Unified School District teamed up with eight other school districts — all members of the California Office to Reform Education (CORE) — to create the nation’s first school district accountability system that includes not only academic achievement, but also school culture and a climate of social and emotional learning.

You may recall No Child Left Behind (NCLB), a federal accountability system that uses only a set of standardized tests from which to derive a school’s success. NCLB determined whether or not a school was making “adequate yearly progress” based on very little information about how the students at the school were actually performing.

Now, after a great deal of collaboration and research, the CORE districts are about to share the results of a more comprehensive accountability system using a larger set of data.

It provides a much clearer picture of how our schools are doing at creating the conditions that help all students learn while still taking into account student performance on annual tests.

More info, better decisions

The official name of the new accountability system is “School Quality Improvement Index.” It measures our school’s academic, social-emotional and cultural climate.

We survey students on whether they feel safe at school. We track absenteeism. We take a look at the number of suspensions. Graduation rates are factored in for high schools. We look at the robust new computerized tests in math and English language arts. We even look at how students of different socioeconomic, racial and language backgrounds, as well as special needs, are doing compared to their peers within and across schools and districts.

At the heart of the index is a focus on eliminating disparity and disproportionality. In fact, unlike NCLB, our index includes results for any student group with 20 or more students.

What’s working

So what will we do with all this information?

This is where I get really excited. With all these indicators at hand, we can now shine a “flashlight” on areas we can improve. We will see with greater accuracy where schools and their students need the most support.

The index will be broken into two areas, and schools will receive scores — not to place blame but to help them identify their strengths and challenges. Academics will account for 60 percent of the score, and social-emotional factors, as well as school culture and climate data, will account for 40 percent.

The index may prove to be an important model for the rest of the state and nation. I’m looking forward to using the index to continuously improve San Francisco’s public schools.

Richard Carranza is the superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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