This is an excerpt of On Assignment, education writer Theresa Harrington's blog on Contra Costa County schools. Read more and post comments at IBABuzz.com/onassignment. Follow her atTwitter.com/tunedtotheresa or Facebook.com/TheresaHarringtonBANG.
In the world of education, data is all the rage.
Teachers talk about using "data-driven" strategies to educate their students by analyzing test results to pinpoint weaknesses, then focusing on them to ensure students "get it."
And the state's new funding formula requires school districts to compile data in accountability plans to show whether they are meeting goals in eight priority areas, including available courses and suspensions and expulsions.
But in many districts, it may be difficult for the public to see at a glance how their local schools are doing.
The West Contra Costa school district, however, is one of a few districts statewide that has created online interactive "data dashboards" to show the public the good, the bad and the ugly details about how its students are faring.
It's a bold move for a district that has ranked near the bottom on test scores throughout California for years. But it's also a refreshing turn of the tide for a district that has been known more for obfuscation than transparency, when asked for information by the public.
"This lifts the veil," trustee Madeline Kronenberg said, after district Director of Accountability Nicole Joyner presented a PowerPoint to the board on Wednesday outlining the wealth of information available.
"Dashboards are visual displays that organize and present information in a way that is easy to read and interpret," Joyner reported. "They are web-based and interactive, providing visibility into key measures through simple graphics such as charts and tables."
The district's dashboards include information on demographics, student achievement, student engagement, school climate, parent involvement, basic services, the district's Local Control Accountability Plan and other measures. It will launch a pilot parent portal in 2015-16, Joyner said.
The district has networked with UC Berkeley and the Oakland school district to set up the dashboards, Joyner said. The Fresno district also produces these types of dashboards, she added.
West Contra Costa's dashboards can be found at http://www.wccusd.net/dashboard. Visitors can see districtwide data, as well as information for individual schools, from 2010 through this school year.
The website includes links to a one-page Dashboard Quick Start Guide, a two-page brochure with more information, an e-brochure that allows viewers to read it as a slide show, a glossary of education terms used in school reports, and a two-page description of 28 data categories included, such as Advanced Placement courses, UC and CSU required course completion and school attendance rates. All of these documents are available in both English and Spanish.
The site also includes an update log that lists additions and revisions. The district launched the dashboard May 11 and has made 10 additions since then, including physical fitness test results.
Much of this information may be available in other places, such as the California Department of Education's DataQuest website, but West Contra Costa's dashboard makes it much easier for the public to easily access it in a reader-friendly way.
The demographics dashboard shows that the district's 28,910 students are 51.6 percent Hispanic, 18.9 percent African-American, 11.4 percent Asian, 10.8 percent white, 6 percent Filipino and 0.4 percent American Indian. Nearly 72 percent of district students are low-income, 32.8 percent are English learners and 0.5 percent are foster youth. More than 13 percent of district students are in special education programs.
A map graphic on the site shows that 12,358 students live in Richmond, 6,992 are from San Pablo, 2,793 are Hercules residents, 2,149 reside in Pinole, 2,090 live in El Cerrito and 21 come from Vallejo.
The student achievement dashboard reveals that in 2013-14, less than one-third of students who took Advanced Placement exams passed, less than three-quarters of students who took the California High School Exams passed, and less than 60 percent of students in grades 5, 8 and 10 scored proficient or advanced on the state's standardized science tests.