Don’t Let the Colors Fool You

By Jessica Sawko

December 19, 2023

Top image via iStock from SDI Productions

For the first time since the start of the pandemic, California has published a complete California School Dashboard (Dashboard). The Dashboard serves as the public face of our state’s K-12 school accountability system. It is through the Dashboard that the public can see how the state is performing overall, how their local school district, and even their local school, is performing, and to view that information at the student group level. However, if you only look at the overview, the colors you see will not tell the full story.

The Dashboard uses colors to indicate how well, or how poorly, schools and the students in them are performing, with red being the lowest and blue being the highest performance. These colors are determined by combining how well students/schools/districts performed (performance) with how much better or worse they are doing this year in comparison to last year (change). As a result, viewing only the overview colors will not tell you the detailed story of how our schools are performing, and in this case, the devil is definitely in the details.

The overall state performance indicates that the state is not “in the red” for any of six indicators of performance they calculate. (The six indicators are K-8 chronic absenteeism, suspension rates, English Learner progress, high school graduation rates, and English and math.) Yet, if you dig a little deeper into the Dashboard data and compare it with that from before the pandemic, you will find that despite not being “in the red” on this year’s Dashboard, we are overall still performing well below pre-pandemic levels.

By way of example, on the 2023 Dashboard, California has a yellow color rating for chronic absenteeism, yet, when we look at the detailed information available on the Dashboard, we find that nearly a quarter of all students missed 18 or more days of school last year. On the 2019 Dashboard, California was in the orange for chronic absenteeism (one color level down from this year), with a much better (although highly concerning) chronic absence rate of 1 in 10 students.

With the changes to our state’s accountability system that will be implemented this year, school districts will be required to write one or more specific actions for any red Dashboard indicators in their Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP). This means that if any school within the district, any student group within the district, and/or any student group within any school within the district has an indicator in the red, then that district must address that specific school/student and indicator in their three-year plan. It is this requirement that necessitates families and community members digging deeper into the Dashboard, to ensure at the local level that their district is focusing their efforts on those schools and students who require the most support.

A closer look at the math indicator reveals more than 60% of districts are in the red at either the district, school, or student group levels. That is just one indicator! When engaging with districts during their LCAP planning process, knowing where they are required to take action will help you advocate for needed changes.

In short, don’t let the colors on the overview page for any school or district fool you. Use the tools available on the Dashboard to dig a little deeper and see how far we need to go and what we need to do to help our kids thrive.