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Editorial: The state school board flunks its accountability exam

Despite complaints from the school-reform movement in California and others, the State Board of Education appears intent on going ahead with an overly complicated, color-coded system for judging public-school performance and progress. It’s vague and confusing, larded with too many factors. Using it to compare one school with another is pretty much impossible.

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have tried to clean up the accountability reports by boiling them down to a single score. His move, after unanimous approval of the bill by both houses of the Legislature, was widely seen as a bow to the state’s teachers’ unions and as a sign that California was disinclined to measure school progress. Among other things, it makes it more difficult for the state to step in when schools fail to improve for years on end.

Meanwhile, parents considering school options for their children are left with the nearly impossible task of sorting out all the color codes to somehow try to compare performance at one school versus another.

Or are they? What the governor and the state board don’t seem to realize is that parents have options.

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The state will still post the standardized test results for each school on its website, as it has done for years. And test scores are easily charted and compared. Real estate agents will almost certainly create easy-to-digest data for house hunters’ use. Charter schools will happily provide comparison numbers to parents in their neighborhoods when their scores outshine the local public schools’, as they often do. And parent-choice organizations are already talking about collecting test scores in easy-to-digest form for parental reference.

It’s a shame, really, that it’s come to this. The concept behind the state’s new color charts is a good one, long overdue. Schools should be judged and compared by more than their test scores, which are a limited measure of their achievements. Other factors, such as graduation rates and bringing limited-English students to fluency, also should be considered. Unfortunately, the state hasn’t been willing to provide a coherent way to do that — which threatens to bring California right back to the days when all anyone looked at were test scores.

It’s not that everything necessarily has to be boiled down to a single number, but the school-measurement system should allow parents to assess quickly and easily how a school is doing and how it compares with others. And they shouldn’t need an advanced degree in psychometrics to do so.

To read the article in Spanish, click here

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