Early Results in California’s CORE Districts

As states and districts work to develop new accountability systems under the Every Student Succeeds Act, six California districts who received federal waivers under the Obama administration are getting the first hints of how more holistic accountability systems might work.

Researchers and district officials discussed the first evaluations of the California Office to Reform Education, or CORE, consortium of districts at the American Association of Educational Research conference.

Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Santa Ana, and San Francisco base 60 percent of their school accountability on students’ academic status and growth, as well as graduation rates at the high school level and an indicator of “high school readiness” for middle schools. However, 40 percent of schools’ accountability is based on social and emotional indicators, including rates of chronic absenteeism, suspension, and expulsions, and surveys of school culture and climate and students’ reports of their own social and emotional growth.

The districts developed surveys for the student self-reports to be “measurable in less than 20 minutes, meaningful to academic and life outcomes, and malleable through school-based interventions,” according to Martin West of Harvard University’s graduate school of education. West and his colleagues analyzed administrative data from more than 250,000 CORE district students in grades 3 through 12, from 2013-14 to 2015-16.

The researchers found students’ reported self-management skills and growth mindset were the best predictors of students’ later reading and math performance; a higher sense of self-efficacy was associated with higher test scores for white and Asian students, but not for black or Hispanic students. Moreover, West said, “Girls consistently rate higher in self management and social awareness, have a sharp decline in self-efficacy from grades 3 to 12, both absolute terms and relative to boys—but that is not translated to reduced test scores compared to boys.”

However, West cautioned that unlike academic skills, in which students typically grow by a steady amount each year, he found the social-emotional skills all showed a sharp decline for students at the beginning of middle school, followed by partial recovery by the middle of high school. That variation may make it more difficult to evaluate how students can be expected to develop in these skills over time.

In a separate study, Hough, Demetra Kalogrides, and Susanna Loeb of Stanford found 5 percent of the differences in schools’ math growth in elementary school and 6 percent of the differences in math growth in middle schools, as well as 11 percent of the differences in high schools’ graduation rates, could be explained by differences in their school climate and student-reported social skills. That was the case even after controlling for school demographics and quality indicators, like teacher quality. Combining the results of the student social-skills surveys and school climate surveys accounted for 21 percent of the difference in math scores for the lowest-performing 5 percent of low-performing schools.

For more commentary, see http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/inside-school-research/2017/05/aera_early_results_in_californ.html

To access the second study discussed, see https://cepa.stanford.edu/content/using-surveys-students-social-emotional-skills-and-school-climate-accountability-and-continuous-improvement