What do parents need to know to find a good school? New federal rules help California find an answer
California is reimagining how it rates schools, and on Thursday, the Obama administration released regulations on the law that governs this process, the Every Student Succeeds Act. Exterior view of Alexander Hamilton High School in Los Angeles. (Mark Ralston / Getty)
lifornia is getting closer to defining what a good school should look like. But how will parents know if their school is one of them?
On Thursday, the federal government released draft regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act’s provisions on school accountability. Under the guidelines, states have to tell parents how their schools are doing on a range of factors — and also give the school an overall rating.
The regulations allow for that rating to be in different forms, including a number, grade, or category.
But there’s still a major debate over how to weight the ingredients that define a school’s quality, and how schools should present that measure of quality to parents.
President Obama signed Every Student in December as a replacement to the No Child Left Behind Act, the federal education law that required annual standardized testing in most grades in reading and math, and tried to hold schools accountable based on those test scores.
Under No Child, each school was either on track or not, a binary ranking many ultimately considered too crude to capture the nuances of what determines whether a school is incredible or awful.
Every Student largely lets states create their own systems for measuring schools — the law requires that states weight academics “much” more than other factors, but also includes at least one non-academic factor.
Under ESSA, states must identify the bottom 5% of poor schools — by whatever accountability systems they devise — as well as schools where a third of students don’t graduate high school on time, and low-income schools where specific groups of students persistently underperform. States must then work to help those schools improve, by any method that is “evidence-based.”
One major question in California had been whether presenting the factors on a "dashboard" — without boiling them all down into a single number — would satisfy the law.
California State Board of Education President Mike Kirst previously said in an interview that he is unconvinced that there is a scientific, proven way to weight the different factors.
“In some ways, these indicators are apples, bananas and oranges,” he has said. “You throw them into a blender and you get a smoothie — I don’t see how you get one number.” But some advocates and civil rights groups have argued that school ratings need to be boiled down to one grade or number in order for them to be parent friendly.
The federal regulations provide some clarity, but the state board still has questions. According to the regulations, states would have to give schools “comprehensive, summative” ratings, but they don’t dictate how much each ingredient should factor in.
The U.S. Department of Education also ruled that states must have at least three categories for rating schools -- a pass or fail system like No Child's is insufficient. A school that gets the lowest possible score on any particular component can’t get top marks for its overall performance, the rules state.
In California, the rules come after the suspension of the Academic Performance Index, the previous system used to measure schools that was criticized for over-emphasizing test What do parents need to know to find a good school? New federal rules help California find an answer - LA Times: