The Bonar Street headquarters of the Berkeley Unified School District. Photo: Kaia Diringer

Information on student achievement and disparities at Berkeley schools is available in a new interactive — and quite colorful — database.

With the California School Dashboard the state has abandoned an accountability system based exclusively on standardized test scores. The “dashboard” includes other measures, like suspension rates and English learner progress, meant to paint a more comprehensive portrait of student achievement and reveal areas needing improvement. Performance in each category is ranked on a color-coded scale based on current status and yearly progress. The rankings are broken down by student demographic group at both the school and district levels, with the intention of identifying groups falling behind.

Districts will also have to report their progress on new indicators including school climate and parent engagement. Detailed information on how data is collected for each indicator is available on the state Department of Education website.

Photo: Screen shot from the California School Dashboard

The pilot version of the school dashboard went live earlier this month and will be fleshed out with more information this fall and in subsequent years.

“Our hope is that can we learn from this data in terms of setting goals for our students or schools next year,” said BUSD Superintendent Donald Evans.

So far, the dashboard entries for BUSD and its schools are populated with data that was previously collected, some two or three years old, but the new website makes it easy to compare and contrast. What is available on the site so far highlights disparities between schools and between the different student groups within each school.

Oxford Elementary School, for example, gets blue (the best performance ranking) across the board for lowest suspension rates, based on 2014-15 numbers and progress. Across town at LeConte, however, the suspension rates for many student groups — including socio-economically disadvantaged students, those with disabilities and African Americans — are much higher, dipping into the orange and red ratings at the bottom of the color scale.

At the high-school level, white and Hispanic students are also suspended less frequently than African-American students. The Berkeley High School 2015 graduation rate for English learners is far lower — 68%, which contributes to an ultra-low red rating — than any other group tracked.

The dashboard still includes standardized test scores. All California students take the Smart Balanced Assessment (SBA) tests for English language arts and math in grades three through eight and 11th grade. The state is trying out a science test this spring as well.

The current academic rankings on the dashboard are based on 2016 SBA scores. The variation, both among Berkeley schools and among student groups, is striking. At the middle school level, for example, King gets the highest, blue, rank for math scores overall, though certain student groups have lower ratings. At Longfellow the gap is even wider, with white students scoring blue and African-American and Hispanic students getting the second-to-lowest orange rank. Willard gets an overall orange rank for math test scores, with several groups earning the lowest red score.

“The SBA is just one way of measuring student outcomes,” Evans said. “That’s just a snapshot, and we have other snapshots.”

But the dashboard is far more elaborate than the old method of tracking student and school performance. Schools used to receive a single Academic Performance Index score based only on standardized tests. The API was a number on a scale of 200 to 1,000, with 800 being the goal. Berkeley High’s most recent API score was 735.

To the chagrin of some educators and administrators who bemoaned its simplicity, some parents used the API score to decide where to enroll their children or buy a home.

The dashboard is “a more complex instrument, showing both status and progress on indicators, making it difficult to compare schools and districts at a glance, but overall this should yield a more meaningful portrait of a school or district than a single score,” said BUSD spokesman Charles Burress in an email.

See the district’s webpage on the dashboard.

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Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...