California school dashboard rankings are misleading

Meera Balaji, Public Relations Manager

California has recently changed its school ranking system by moving away from the traditional API (Academic Performance Index) score to an assessment utilizing various components within a school. While the former system determined a school’s ranking based solely on test results, the newly implemented Dashboard system looks at different factors within a school and prioritizes growth over performance. This change seems to be a modern approach to holistically evaluating a school, but despite its initial appeal, it creates new problems when it comes to accurately assessing a school’s rating, as it relies on subjective criteria rather than generalized statistics.

The new system seeks to provide a more a holistic understanding of our school, [and] it provides information that involves more than test scores,” said principal Maria Jackson, explaining the decision to move away from using the API score to determine a school’s rank.

While the API score lacks the comprehensive approach that the Dashboard system utilizes, it provides an empirical and fairly clear analysis of the academic performance of the student population. On the other hand, the Dashboard Rankings have led parents and teachers alike to misunderstand the new criteria. Schools receive color-coded ratings for the quality of each factor they assess. The factors judged are the fluctuation in suspension rate, the graduation rate, increases in fluency for students in the English Language Development department, indications of the preparedness of graduating seniors for postsecondary education and CAASPP results.

This new high prioritization of growth misinforms the public about a school’s actual performance. Brooklyn Avenue Elementary in Los Angeles currently has the highest ranking of blue in math, only because its score has risen by 16 points, despite the fact that over half of Brooklyn Avenue’s students failed to meet statewide math requirements. On the other hand, over 90 percent of students in West Hillsborough Elementary in San Mateo County scored above proficient in math, but the school was given the second highest ranking, because there was a slight decline from 94.8 to 91.7 points.

“Lynbrook always performs well on standardized testing, but the score can fluctuate by a couple points. It’s not fair that a school who has lower scores than Lynbrook could be ranked higher just because their score went up a few points,” said sophomore Annie Pan.

One component of the ranking is “school climate,” an evaluation of school safety and connectedness. A school’s climate will be judged by a survey given every other year that is solely based off students’ perception of the environment. It will administered rather sporadically, only to 1 of the 4 grades every two years.

Junior Nikhil Vytla believes that this heavily increased importance on inherently vacillating evidence is misleading to schools whose students do not perform well on standardized testing.

“I prefer the API score because it portrays a more realistic approach to California’s current level of educational performance,” said Vytla. “It is important to recognize growth, but painting a rosy picture of school statuses doesn’t help nearly as much as confronting the reality of the situation.”

There is obviously more to a school’s credentials apart from the scores of its students, but a more objective approach should be taken to create a comprehensive ranking system. The transition to this new system only produces imprecise information that cannot accurately assess the quality of the education.