The Maze of School Performance Tools for California Parents To Make Better Decisions for Their Children

I have been a California public school parent for over 15 years. During this time, I have seen many different performance measures. All with a goal of allowing me, a parent, to see how my child’s school is performing.

I have found every tool to only provide a piece of the puzzle. I have always had to do a lot of work to begin to understand school performance. And the work continues with the launch of California’s new Dashboard.

Below, I summarize three data sources I use to measure school performance.

1. School Accountability Report Card (SARC): I find the SARC to be one of the most helpful school performance tools available. Each school must generate a yearly report card. The report includes demographic information, conditions of learning, student outcomes, and parental involvement. Conditions of learning include items such as the number of credentialed versus emergency credentialed teachers at your school. There is typically a year lag with the information. 

Report cards can be found online at I will admit that the format of the SARCs is dense and not easy to read. Districts may upload the report on their webpage, typically in the ‘schools’ section. However, when I checked my local district’s website, its SARC reports are more than two years old. The site has not been updated in a long time. The state of California includes up to date reports.

2. California Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBAC): The SBAC is the newish annual assessment test provided to students in grades 3-8 and grade 11. The results can be found by state, district, and school through a search. You can review results by race/ethnicity, gender, low-income status, and other indicators.

The test results primarily let you know whether students are meeting grade-level proficiency in math and English Language Arts/Literacy. Individual student results are mailed home over the summer. If you did not receive your child’s tests results, you should contact your school for a copy.

3. California Dashboard: Last year, the California Department of Education released a Dashboard. The dashboard is meant to provide districts, school leaders, and other stakeholders with information about how schools are performing. It compares the status of multiple indicators to show whether they are getting better or worse. The tool uses five color-coded levels and reviews items such as academic performance, school conditions/climate, and academic engagement.  

I have just begun to review the Dashboard and find it is an improvement on the former API index. It is easier to review than the SARC, and for some, the color coded system is easy to understand. However, it is in its early stages and is not fully populated.

While this information is useful and helps to paint a picture of my son’s school, I also rely on other measures. These measures are created by a strong school administration and include:

  • Can I contact my son’s teacher? Does his teacher communicate with me?
  • Does the principal stay connected with parents and seek to build a strong school community?
  • Is there a thriving parent/teacher organization?
  • Does the school have a diverse student population that will enhance my son’s experience?
  • What after-school/enrichment programs are available?

The above information, for me, mostly comes from word of mouth or my own experience. Taken together, this information provides a good composite of how my child’s school is performing. It is complex and often very time consuming to go through all the information. Yet, the various tools allow me to figure out what is most important when reviewing school performance and enable me to use them to make choices about schools or hold my school accountable.

What do you think?

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Raquel F. Donoso

Raquel F. Donoso

Raquel F. Donoso is a parent, advocate, writer, and results-driven leader. Her mission to increase educational equity for students began when she became a single mother in college. Having first-hand knowledge of the barriers and obstacles low-income, single-parent families experience, she dedicated her life to increasing opportunities for other families like hers. With 20-years of experience in the social sector, she founded Just Results Consulting, a mission-driven firm that works to increase opportunities for children, youth, and families. Prior to JR, she directed the Mission Promise Neighborhood, a $30M federally funded initiative to create a cradle to college to career pipeline in San Francisco and was CEO of the Latino Community Foundation. Raquel earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from UCLA and is currently completing her Doctorate in Educational Leadership from UC, Davis. Her older son is a graduate of Clark University, and her younger son is a Junior at Middle College in West Contra Costa.

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