The Education Trust-West works for the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, pre-k through college.

Strengthening School and District Accountability

Strengthening School and District Accountability

Parents want to know how their schools are performing, and communities demand that we improve our state’s lowest performing schools. Yet our current state accountability system offers confusing information on school performance and schools face few consequences for persistent failure to improve.

Most troubling is the fact that the state’s expectations for progress are far too low. For instance, the High Priority Schools Grant Program, targeted at the lowest 10 percent of all schools statewide, required that schools demonstrate growth of just a single API point each year in exchange for significant funding.

And in 2010, we found that 70 percent of the California schools targeted for federal School Improvement Grants, a turnaround program for the state’s lowest 5 percent of schools, had already received substantial state funds for improvement in the preceding years, but had failed to improve.

California should set clear college and career-ready expectations for our schools, take decisive action when those expectations are not met—especially in the lowest performing schools, and offer tailored supports to all schools needing help reaching their targets.

State leaders should do the following:


When making accountability determinations, the state should use a mix of valid, reliable measures that parents and community members can easily find and understand. To identify both high-performing and persistently underperforming schools, California should expand its accountability system to include other metrics in addition to absolute student performance. These could include individual student growth rates, graduation rates, and A-G graduation rates. All indicators used to make high-stakes decisions should conform to robust data-quality standards and protocols. The state must therefore have processes for validating all data used to make accountability determinations.


Goals that are meaningful, challenging, and achievable will guide the work of schools and districts and inspire educators to aim high. State leaders should set goals to increase achievement for all students and close gaps between groups of students. The current statewide goal, 800 on the Academic Performance Index (API), has not been revised since its inception in 1999, and schools can achieve 800 even if a substantial percentage of their students are not at grade level. A more ambitious goal, such as an API of 875, would ensure that more students are achieving proficiency. Further, the state’s current expectations for the annual growth of schools and their student subgroups are far too low. These annual targets should be accelerated.


California leaders should reward schools and districts that consistently meet or exceed their goals with resources, recognition, and autonomy. As part of this, the state should arrange for others to learn from schools and districts that demonstrate sustained high performance and improvements. Meanwhile, those that struggle to meet their goals should receive differentiated interventions and supports and face meaningful consequences, including complete school redesign, if they consistently fail to improve.


The state should target school improvement efforts at the lowest performing schools. Yet in most cases, districts can serve as a first-line of support for schools that need extra help in meeting their targets. District leaders, in partnership with the school community, can diagnose and address a school’s unique challenges. However, district administrators cannot make significant improvements if their hands are tied on key personnel or curriculum choices. Therefore, the state should require districts engaged in school improvement efforts to do the following:

a. Let principals in high-need schools staff their sites as they see fit. Specifically, the state should require that such school leaders be allowed to select their staffs, decline forced teacher placements, and protect their staff from layoffs during budget cuts.

b. Give principals leeway to make decisions about curricula, instructional strategies, and the use of time, such as a redesign or extension of the school day or year.


For persistently low-performing and slowly improving schools, and their districts, the state must take decisive action, implementing comprehensive, systematic, and effective approaches to school improvement, coupled with strong accountability for meeting aggressive targets. These improvement efforts should start by staffing those schools with strong school leaders empowered to make important staffing and instructional decisions.


Publications on Accountability:

Ed Trust–West Releases Fourth Annual Report Cards Grading the Largest Unified School Districts on Outcomes for Latino, African-American and Low-income Students

OAKLAND, CA (April 8, 2014) – Today, The Education Trust–West (ETW) releases its fourth annual District Report Cards, grading and ranking California’s largest unified districts on academic and college readiness outcomes for Latino, African-American, and low-income students.


Ed Trust–West Releases Third Annual Report Cards Grading the 148 Largest Unified Districts on Outcomes for Latino, African-American, and Low-income Students

OAKLAND, CA (April 3, 2013) – Today, The Education Trust–West (ETW) releases its third annual District Report Cards (, grading and ranking California’s largest unified districts on outcomes for Latino, African-American, and low-income students. Once again, this year’s report cards reveal higher poverty districts that are consistently achieving strong academic results, and graduating high numbers of college-eligible Latino, African-American, and low-income students.   

“Just as students receive report cards that measure their performance and progress in school, ETW develops annual report cards that grade California school districts on how well they are educating their Latino, African-American, and low-income students,” said Lindsey Stuart, Data and Policy Analyst at The Education Trust–West.  

New Analysis of Civil Rights Data Highlights Critical Need for Reforms to California’s Education System: Education Trust—West Calls for State to Follow the Lead of Innovative Districts and Charters

OAKLAND, CA (September 6, 2012)On the heels of the release of the 2012 STAR testing data, a startling new infographic and presentation from The Education Trust—West (ETW) exposes previously hidden gaps in California’s college and career pipeline, impacting more than four million students. Combining new data from the U.S. Office of Civil Rights (OCR) with data from previous ETW reports, the analysis reveals how low-income, Latino and African-American students in California are getting less of everything they need to achieve their college and career dreams. As a result, nearly a third of these students fail to graduate from high school and only 14% of those who do graduate enter the University of California (UC) or California State University (CSU) system. According to the analysis, low-income students in California’s schools receive:   

Infographic & Presentation: California's Education System: Is it Fair?

A startling new infographic and presentation from The EducationTrust—West (ETW) exposes previously hidden gaps in California’s college and career pipeline, impacting more than four million students. Combining new data from the U.S.

Publication date: 
August 28 2012

Latest Graduation Data Reveal an Ongoing Crisis for California’s Highest Need Students

OAKLAND, CA (June 27, 2012) – For the second year in a row, the California Department of Education (CDE) has released accurate and transparent graduation and dropout rate data thanks to the state’s use of CALPADS, the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System. The data once again reveal that California’s schools are graduating Latino, African-American, and low-income students at alarmingly low rates.

EQUITY ALERT: 2011 California District Report Cards

Just as students receive report cards that measure their performance and progress in school, The Education Trust – West develops annual report cards that grade California school districts on how well they serve their Latino, African-American, and low-income students. This brief summarizes the findings of our Second Annual District Report Cards. District leaders create the conditions for reform at the school and classroom levels that lead to improved student achievement. Our 2011 report cards focus on the critical role districts play in improving Latino, African-American, and low-income student achievement, closing achievement gaps, and preparing students for college eligibility.This year’s report cards reveal many of the same patterns as last year’s, with noteworthy changes in some districts and regions. As in 2010, the largest unified districts in Southern California tend to achieve better outcomes among their traditionally underserved students than Northern California districts. And of the large, unified districts assigned grades in both 2010 and 2011, most districts maintained the same grades overall and across indicators. While some districts improved or declined, twice as many districts improved their overall grades as those that slid backward.

Publication date: 
March 22 2012

Ed Trust—West Statement on 2011 Accountability Progress Report (APR) Results

Oakland, CAThe Education Trust—West issued the following statement in response to the California Department of Education’s (CDE) release of the 2011 Accountability Progress Report results:

The APR results released today by the California Department of Education make one thing clear: we need to do more for our state’s Latino, African-American, and low-income students.  

Both California’s accountability system, the Academic Performance Index (API), and the federal accountability system of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) indicate that far too many California schools are failing to adequately educate their students—especially the low-income students and students of color who now comprise the majority of our state’s student population.

For 2010-11, slightly more than two-thirds of students were required to reach proficiency in English-language arts and math for schools to meet federal AYP targets. The vast majority of California’s Title I schools did not meet this benchmark.

Student Achievement in California: Ed Trust—West Statement on 2011 STAR Data

OAKLAND, CA (August 15, 2011) – The Education Trust—West issued the following statement from Executive Director Arun Ramanathan in response to the release of the 2011 Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) results by the California Department of Education (CDE) today:

This year’s STAR data demonstrate how far we still have to go in our effort to educate all California students to their fullest potential. Over the last eight years, we have seen slow, incremental growth in the achievement of low-income students and students of color, who now represent the majority in our state’s public schools. The sad truth is that wide achievement gaps still persist between African-American and Latino students and their white peers.

Ed Trust—West Condemns Potential Cuts to Education in Proposed 2011-12 Budget; Implores State Leaders to Find a Budget Solution That Protects California’s Highest-Need Students

(OAKLAND, CA)  Dr. Arun Ramanathan, Executive Director of The Education Trust—West, issued the following statement regarding the proposed 2011-12 budget:

“While Democrats slap each other on the back for their ‘budget’ deal and Republicans applaud their efforts to prevent any tax increases, California’s poorest students are once again getting a raw deal from our state’s leadership.  The potential budget deal is based on Wizard of Oz assumptions that there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  If that pot of gold does not materialize, our poorest students and most vulnerable communities will once again take the brunt of state budget cuts through inequitable approaches such as shortening the school year.  It is long past time to develop a real budget solution that solves the boom and bust cycles of California’s state budget.  We have seen courageous Democrats and Republicans in other states forging the difficult compromises and showing the visionary leadership necessary to confront entrenched interests and solve their states’ fiscal crises.  As long as California’s children and communities are at the mercy of lawmakers beholden to special interests from public employee unions to taxpayer associations, we will continue our pattern of smoke and mirrors budgeting.  The result will always be reprehensible cuts that force our children to pay the long-term price for our current dysfunction.”