CORE-PACE Research Partnership

PACE has recently launched a research partnership with the CORE Districts, a network of 9 California school districts working together to improve student achievement by fostering meaningful collaboration and learning. As part of this partnership, PACE is leading a research agenda designed to support the CORE districts in continuous improvement while simultaneously helping to inform state-level policy in California. In the first year of the partnership (2015-16), PACE researchers are evaluating the implementation and effect of CORE’s innovative accountability system (the School Quality Improvement System), which focuses on the whole school and the whole child, and emphasizes the importance of the “right drivers” for school improvement, including an explicit emphasis on developing students’ academic and social-emotional skills. To learn more about this work or to get involved, contact the project director, Heather Hough.

Partnership Publications

California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) requires districts to report multiple measures of student performance that reflect success in the goal of preparing students for college, career, and citizenship. As they engage in the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) process, they are expected to use state and local indicator data from California’s School Dashboard to monitor student progress. When Dashboard indicators identify student subgroups as low performing or low growth, districts are encouraged to engage in a process of continuous improvement to develop strategies and then monitor their effectiveness. At this early stage of implementation, education leaders have an opportunity to learn from early adopters who are already using continuous improvement principles. In this case study, we share how Fresno Unified School District (FUSD) developed and utilized its data dashboard and the principles of Improvement Science to increase college access for their students, in partnership with the University of California, Merced.

This report and accompanying policy brief show that there is good reason to pursue the measurement of social-emotional learning (SEL) and school culture/climate (CC) as a way to better understand student and school performance. Using data from California's CORE districts, we show that SEL and CC measures demonstrate reliability and validity, distinguish between schools, are related to other academic and non-academic measures, and also illuminate dimensions of student achievement that go beyond traditional indicators. We also show how the SEL and CC measures can be used to identify areas of improvement within schools, such as identifying subgroup gaps or differences in reports between various respondent groups.

Summary and Policy Implications

  • Policy makers, educators, and the broader public increasingly agree that students’ development of social-emotional skills is important for success in academic and life outcomes. Research provides evidence that schools can facilitate the development of these skills, both directly and through the implementation of policies and practices that improve a school’s culture and climate and promote positive relationships.
  • Growing confidence that schools can contribute to students’ social-emotional development has led some districts and states nationwide to consider including measures of of socialemotional learning (SEL) and school culture and climate (CC) in systems of school accountability and continuous improvement.
  • This policy brief summarizes our recent research using data from the CORE districts— districts serving nearly one million students who have embraced systematic measurement of SEL and CC—to provide guidance for state and local policy makers about the suitability of SEL and CC surveys as school performance indicators and how they can be used in a broader set of measures.
  • We find that the CORE measures of SEL and CC demonstrate validity and reliability, distinguish between schools, are related to other academic and non-academic measures, and illuminate dimensions of student achievement that go beyond traditional indicators, all initial indications of the measures’ promise for informing school improvement.
  • Our results also demonstrate the importance of reporting SEL and CC measures by subgroup, as African American and Hispanic/Latino students report lower SEL and CC compared to peers even within the same schools.
  • While the measures of SEL and CC provide new information for school improvement, given remaining questions about the measures’ sensitivity to change over time, the effect of schools on improving SEL and CC outcomes, and the potential for measures to be gamed, further research is needed to understand the advantages and disadvantages of incorporating them into higher stakes accountability systems.

Summary and Policy Implications

California and the nation are at the crossroads of a major shift in school accountability policy. At the state level, California’s Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) encourages the use of multiple measures of school performance used locally to support continuous improvement and strategic resource allocation. Similarly, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) reinforces this local control, requiring more comprehensive assessment of school performance and a less prescriptive, local approach to school support. These changes represent a major cultural shift for California schools and districts.

As California supports districts statewide to embark on this improvement journey, there are important lessons to be learned from the CORE districts, six of which developed an innovative accountability system under a waiver from No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The CORE districts are early adopters of the new accountability paradigm: local leaders using multiple measures of school performance and working together to figure out collectively what works best for struggling schools.

This study examines how the CORE districts understood, implemented, and responded to the new accountability system implemented under the waiver. Our research indicates that a shift to greater flexibility and locally-determined capacity building efforts brings its own set of challenges, but substantial benefits as well. The CORE districts present an opportunity to learn how to effectively utilize multiple measures of school quality, develop shared accountability, and build capacity for schools and districts to improve.

In summary, we find that: 1) district and school administrators greatly appreciated the shift toward a more holistic approach to measurement and an emphasis on support over sanctions; 2) most waiver districts adapted CORE’s accountability system to their local needs, revealing a tension between shared accountability and local variation; and 3) CORE’s measurement system and district-level collaboration hold promise for improving local systems, while efforts to improve schools through collaboration and capacity building remain a work in progress.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) makes sweeping changes to the way school performance is measured. Using the innovative measurement system developed by the CORE Districts in California, the authors explore how schools can be identified for support and improvement using a multiple measures framework. They show that 1) Different academic indicators measure very different aspects of school performance, suggesting that states should be allowed and encouraged to make full use of multiple measures to identify schools in the way they see fit instead of reporting a summative rating; 2) The ESSA regulations effectively restrict the weighting of the non-academic “School Quality and Student Success” indicators to zero, which is not in the spirit of the expanded measurement; and 3) The majority of schools will be identified for targeted support under the current regulations, suggesting the need for a clarification in federal policy.

With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015, California state policymakers are tasked with determining the subgroup threshold for school-level reporting. To inform this decision, this policy brief explores the implications of utilizing various subgroup sizes using data from the CORE Districts. The authors find that the 20+ subgroup size presents clear advantages in terms of the number of students represented, particularly in making historically underserved student populations visible.

UPDATE: In response to new ESSA regulations, the authors produced a supplemental report comparing subgroup sizes of 20+ to 30+.

With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015, California must integrate additional measures of student and school performance into the state-wide accountability system. To support the conversation as policymakers consider if/how to include chronic absenteeism data in the state’s accountability system, PACE has conducted an analysis of the CORE Districts’ student chronic absenteeism data. Chronic absence is feasible for inclusion in California’s accountability measurement system using the state’s approach for rating school achievement based on outcome and improvement, or alternatively through an approach that simply looks at performance in a given school year.


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