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LAUSD Board Wonders Whether School Report Cards Truly Measure Success

Hannah Vega |
April 8, 2015 | 11:32 p.m. PDT


“We have to push LA Unified to be different and to get better results,” Mónica García, a Los Angeles Unified School District board member, said.

In its official mission statement, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) lists five goals: 100 percent graduation, academic proficiency for all, 100 percent attendance, parent and community engagement, and school safety. 

“Today we say 100 percent graduation and we know we are not there yet. No one is satisfied by today but it speaks to a belief system that we have the high expectations for everyone,” García said. 

(Hannah Vega/Neon Tommy)
(Hannah Vega/Neon Tommy)

To monitor the district’s progress, “School Report Cards” have been issued for the past seven years with García “spearheading” their development according to her LAUSD page. A “School Report Card” is issued for each LAUSD school, so that each can compare itself to the rest of the district as a measure of accountability. These so-called report cards show demographics, proficiency, parent involvement, discipline, and attendance. 

The district calculates how many students are graduating within four years in the high school report cards. The district average for 2014 was 67 percent, as reported by the school district. The report also contained data provided by student, parent, and staff responses through a “School Experience Survey,” to examine the environment of individual schools. The district-wide average for student survey responses was 70 percent. Many students who filled out the survey reported they knew what they must do to graduate and others self-reported that they planned to pursue their education further. The district also posed the question: “What is it like to be at this school?” 

To assess “What is it like to be at this school?” the district asked students to respond if they agreed with the following statements: “What we are learning takes a lot of thinking,” “Adults at this school know my name,” “My school provides extra learning support when I need it,” “My school offers many activities before or after school that support my personal growth,” and “I have had a meeting this year with someone on the school staff to discuss my Individual Graduation Plan.”

SEE ALSO: MiSiS Issues Continue to Challenge Teachers, Students, Parents Across LAUSD

LAUSD did not provide district-wide responses to these questions for comparison. However, the finer points of the report card can be viewed by analyzing the individual school reports. By comparing the schools, the articulation of success is shown. The schools Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies Magnet in Faircrest Heights, the Ambassador School of Global Leadership in Koreatown, and the Communication and Technology School at the Diego Rivera Learning Complex in Huntington Park illustrated differing school performances. They were also chosen because they had similar demographics: Populations that were economically disadvantaged and predominately composed of minorities (a Latino majority). 

The Ambassador School of Global Leadership (ASGL) in Koreatown exemplifies an average performing LAUSD school. At ASGL, 77 percent of students graduate within four years, 10 percent more than the district average. Eighty percent of students took the survey according to the school’s report card. Although only 57 percent of students responding to the survey reported they were proud of attending ASGL, they responded more positive when asked about the opportunities provided at the school. 

By way of comparison, the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies Magnet in Faircrest Heights is the highest ranked LAUSD high school. It is currently ranked nineteenth in the state of California, according to U.S. News and World Report rankings. Ninety-four percent of students graduated in 2014. Ninety-four percent of students participated in the “School Experience Survey.” Fifty-six percent of students taking the survey said they were proud to be at the school.

SEE ALSO: LAUSD's Graduation Rate Didn't Increase 12 Percent

By way of comparison, one of the most under-performing schools in the district was the Communication and Technology School at the Diego Rivera Learning Complex in Huntington Park. The school had a 54 percent graduation rate, 13 percent below the district average. And less than half, only forty-eight percent, of the Communication and Technology students took the “School Experience Survey.”  Because of the lower response rate, the responses provided are not as indicative of the student body as compared to the other schools. Nonetheless, 67 percent of the survey respondents at Communication and Technology said they were proud of their school. This means that 11 percent more of the student body at one of the district’s poorest performing schools were proud of their school than the student body at best-performing high school in the district.

Yet, each student body responded similarly to the statements assessing “What is it like to be at this school?” The exception is the last statement that does not definitively correlate the data. The other statements’ like-responses reveal similar feelings towards each school, disregarding the actual performance of the school.

“Historically, we've evaluated schools only by test score levels in math and English, but many folks (myself included) would prefer that we measure more things and give parents and educators more information in order to help them choose schools that are better for them (and in order to intervene in schools that are not working well for anyone),” Dr. Morgan Polikoff, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education said.

Polikoff said indicators other than test scores and graduation rates could exemplify a school’s success, like the report cards presented, but success “is a matter of opinion.” He said people prioritize different things and most other indicators are not empirically evidenced.

“It is quite possible that individuals judge the quality of a school based on factors other than test score results.  That is, a parent might love their local school because the faculty are caring and embrace them and their children; the school is safe, et cetera. It may not be surprising that attitudes about a school may not match the results from standardized test scores,” Dr. Julie Marsh, an associate professor at the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education, said.

Contact Contributor Hannah Vega here and follow her on Twitter here.



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