If LAUSD hides student achievement data, we may never know

By Jenny Hontz

Jenny Hontz is a local parent and education activist

The writer is a Westchester mom and communications director for the grassroots parent organization Speak UP.

How much academic progress are kids making in Los Angeles public schools in a given year? It’s actually much harder to tell than it should be.

That’s because the Los Angeles Unified School District has been keeping parents, teachers and the public in the dark when it comes to information on student growth, which compares the academic performance of a group of students this year to that same group’s performance the year before.

The LAUSD Board of Education will vote Nov. 5 on whether to continue hiding this vital information that would help families better evaluate their kids’ schools. It’s worth paying attention to that vote.

California is supposed to be a progressive state, but when it comes to education, we’re one of just two states — the other is Kansas — that does not make this student growth data public.

Across the nation, student growth is considered a much better indicator of school performance than the system we have, which focuses solely on the average number of kids meeting state proficiency standards in English and math.

Focusing only on proficiency tends to make schools serving the most affluent students look like the best schools, even if kids aren’t actually learning as much as they could. Schools with high standardized test scores, for instance, may be letting high-achieving kids coast and stagnate rather than meet their potential.

Likewise, parents may be overlooking excellent schools that serve lower-income kids who start out far behind their more affluent peers and are doing a fantastic job of helping these kids catch up at a rapid rate. With dedicated teachers, high-growth schools often help vulnerable students make two years of academic progress in a single school year.

If we identify the schools helping kids learn the most, we can examine what they’re doing right and use that information to help kids at schools that are struggling.

A year and a half ago, Westside school board member Nick Melvoin co-sponsored a resolution with Kelly Gonez to give families better information about school performance, focusing heavily on student growth data. The point was to help families choose the best schools for their kids and to help all schools improve, and it passed on a 6-1 vote.

A working group of parents, teachers and district officials spent a year and a half developing this new School Performance Framework, which was supposed to launch this month, during the application window when students apply for LAUSD schools of choice, such as magnet and dual language immersion programs.

Because of politics, though, all of that hard work could go to waste. The resolution proposed by board member Jackie Goldberg would dismantle this new system before it launches and bury the data telling us which schools are helping kids learn the most.

Parents have long complained that LAUSD lacks transparency. If this resolution passes and LAUSD breaks its promise to parents, it will only reinforce a lack of trust in the district, which contributed to the recent failure of the Measure EE school bond.

Speak UP has joined with 10 education and community organizations including United Way, Teach Plus, Education Leaders of Color, Parent Revolution and Families in Schools in calling on LAUSD to release student growth data to the public immediately.

There’s widespread agreement nationwide on the value of this information. The National PTA and the Data Quality Campaign came out with a brief in September titled “Parents Deserve Clear Information About Student Growth in Schools.” Morgan Polikoff, an associate professor of education policy at the USC Rossier School of Education, just authored a report urging California to adopt a student growth model.

The word Polikoff used to describe attempts to hide this data for LAUSD is “crazy.”

“The resolution was awful and really disappointing,” he told SPEAK UP’s Leslee Komaiko. “The data exist. There’s no reason not to make them public. They could be useful to lots of different people, including parents, but also educators. As far as I can tell there’s no real downside.”

We all deserve to have this information, and it’s time for California to get with the program. Instead of keeping families in the dark, Los Angeles should be shining a light and leading the way.