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

Accountability for Student Results

Accountability for Student Results

No policy area has experienced greater tectonic shifts over the past year than districts and school accountability. For over a decade, California has operated under a dual accountability model. Parents, educators, policymakers, and even realtors have measured school quality using the state’s Academic Performance Index (API), a tidy three-digit score ranging from 200-1000. Meanwhile, the federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)—a central component of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)—has determined whether or not a school or district is “failing” based on English and math results and graduation rates. Failure to meet AYP results in a series of escalating interventions called “Program Improvement.”

In 2013, this two-part system experienced tremendous upheaval. Local, state, and federal policies altered and further divided the system, creating four distinct school and district accountability systems.

Let’s first address what happened at the state level.

In 2012, education leaders and advisers committed themselves to introducing college and career readiness measures to the API, as legislated by State Sen. Darrell Steinberg’s Senate Bill 1458. Then, in 2013, the Legislature passed Assembly Bill 484, a law that managed, in one fell swoop, to transition the state to Common Core-aligned assessments, abandon a host of existing assessments, and pause reporting of the API. The API will likely come back online after the state has fully transitioned to the new Smarter Balanced assessments, but it will not look the same. Currently, state leaders are at an impasse, uncertain as to what data the API will contain, although new measures will include, at minimum, graduation rates and college and career readiness information.

A month before signing AB 484, Gov. Brown and the Legislature passed the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). Districts are now required to develop Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs) that map their goals and plans against eight priority areas. The state also created a new entity, the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence (CCEE), to advise and assist school districts in improving performance and to help them achieve the goals set forth in their LCAPs. In some cases, the CCEE can also intervene in failing schools. With these accountability changes introduced by LCFF, it is unclear whether the API could or should serve the same purpose as it did before.

Meanwhile, the federal system experienced similarly dramatic shifts.

With NCLB long overdue for reauthorization the U.S. Department of Education offered states the opportunity to apply for waivers from key provisions of the law. Early in 2013, the Department rejected California’s request for a waiver. The following month, a consortium of school districts participating in the California Office to Reform Education (CORE) announced they would seek their own wavier, which they were granted in August 2013. These eight unified districts (Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Sanger, and Santa Ana) are now constructing their own system of accountability to replace AYP. They will measure their schools on a host of indicators and support them through peer coaching, collaboration, and communities of practice. The hundreds of California districts that are not in CORE are still required to follow the federal AYP model.

With all this as a backdrop, we recommend state leaders streamline our systems of accountability and maintain a focus on strong student results. An accountability system that is fragmented, that contains too many indicators, and that drifts away from a focus on student academic achievement will risk confusing stakeholders and muddying the definition of school success.

In order to ensure that California’s education system includes strong accountability for results, we recommend that state leaders:

  1. Create clear alignment between California’s multiple accountability systems.
  2. Create a comprehensive vision for accountability, including a framework that describes the relationships between the LCAP and the API and between the CCEE and the current system of Program Improvement. This framework should also address how public reports, such as the School Accountability Report Card (SARC), support and complement this vision. This type of framing would help guide and focus the work of California’s educators and would create transparency for the public.

  3. Develop an accountability system that includes multiple—but not too many—measures of student
  4. We support the expansion of the API to include measures of college and career readiness and agree that we are long overdue in making graduation rates part of our accountability system. And as the state transitions to new assessments, we urge leaders to use the opportunity to introduce measures of both student achievement at one point in time and also student growth over time. However, we urge restraint around combining too many measures within the main accountability system. Instead, we suggest measuring and reporting a number of other related indicators through separate indices alongside the student results data. These measures include student attendance and absenteeism; school climate and safety; English learner reclassification and long-term English learner rates; suspension and expulsion rates; and college and career supports, including FAFSA and Cal Grant application rates. Certainly, there are many factors, such as the ones listed above, that make a school successful, and it is helpful to measure the most important ones. But mixing them all together into a single index does not acknowledge this complexity; it glosses over it. Further, ensure that any indicator in a state priority area is valid, reliable, and comparable between districts.

  5. Ensure that the accountability system drives improvement.
  6. In order for our accountability system
    to change outcomes for students, it must include targets that are rigorous but attainable.
    California should establish clear statewide goals by subgroup for a focused set of valid, reliable measures that include academic achievement, graduation, and a-g rates, and publicly report progress toward these goals. District goals, such as those included in LCAPs, should be tied to these state goals. Schools and districts that fail to make sufficient progress toward these goals should receive escalating assistance and interventions. In cases where schools and districts persistently fail to achieve goals, the state should take swift action.


Publications on Accountability:

Ed Trust-West Releases LCAP Evaluation Checklist

Dear Friends and Partners,

This month, districts across California are holding public hearings on their Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs) and will adopt final budget plans by the end of June. During this exciting time, stakeholders have the opportunity to review and comment on these plans.

To help support that process, The Education Trust—West (ETW) has developed a Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) Evaluation Checklist. Our LCAP Evaluation Checklist is designed to help stakeholders—including advisory committee members and the general public—review district LCAPs and frame their comments and questions. It is meant to assist in evaluating whether an LCAP meets legal requirements and whether it clearly communicates district goals and plans in keeping with the spirit of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). It is not meant to evaluate the quality or likely effectiveness of proposed programs and services.

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

Broad Coalition of Education Stakeholders Opposes AB 5

OAKLAND, CA (August 22, 2012)A broad group of reform minded school districts, education advocacy and civil rights organizations have come together to oppose California Assembly Bill 5.  AB 5 guts all objective accountability on adult job performance in public schools while undermining local authority and adds new unfunded state mandates of over $50 million.

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

The Education Trust—West Issues Statement as California State Board of Education Considers a Waiver of No Child Left Behind

OAKLAND, CA (March 7, 2012) – The Education Trust—West issued the following statement as the California State Board of Education considers an application for a waiver of No Child Left Behind:

“The Obama administration has offered California an unprecedented opportunity to apply for a waiver of No Child Left Behind. To date, thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia have seized this opportunity and submitted waiver applications. This includes states with Democratic and Republican leadership. It includes states that have, like California, suffered from sizable budget deficits. In contrast, California’s leadership has failed to submit an application and focused instead on criticizing the Obama administration for the reasonable requirements of the waiver application process. These requirements include the implementation of Common Core State Standards adopted by the California State Board of Education; the development of a robust district and school accountability system focused on closing achievement gaps; and long overdue reforms to California’s abysmal teacher and principal evaluation requirements. Rather than seizing this opportunity, Governor Brown and Superintendent Torlakson have decided to submit a ‘California-specific waiver’ that would ignore the administration’s application requirements. Given the high stakes, this approach is appalling. Like thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia, California should support the Obama administration’s plan and submit a waiver proposal that adheres to the requirements of the application process. Doing otherwise would be an incredible lost opportunity and an abdication of our leadership’s responsibility to improve California’s education system. We encourage the state board to reject the California-specific waiver proposal and vote to submit a high quality waiver application that adheres to the Obama administration’s requirements for approval.”     

The Education Trust—West’s Statement on President Obama’s Plan for Waivers to NCLB

OAKLAND, CA (September 22, 2011) – The Education Trust—West issued the following statement in response to the U.S. Department of Education’s announcement that it will provide states with the opportunity to apply for waivers to No Child Left Behind (NCLB):

“President Obama’s announcement of an application process for waivers of No Child Left Behind provides California with an unprecedented opportunity to improve our education system to better serve all students. Our state’s leaders have been consistently critical of NCLB and asked for relief from its requirements without presenting a real vision for closing California’s persistent achievement gaps. They now have the flexibility to develop a new accountability system focused on cutting our state’s achievement gaps in half. They also have an opportunity to reform our broken teacher evaluation system and guarantee access to college and career ready curriculum for all students. In a state where students of color and low income students represent the majority of our student population, closing opportunity and achievement gaps and implementing critical reforms should be our leaders’ top priorities. California’s future and our students’ hopes and aspirations depend on the willingness of our state leaders to be courageous enough to turn this unprecedented opportunity into a reality.”