on display

State releases early mock-up of data ‘dashboard,’ offering clues on how it may report school quality to the public

There are stars showing student performance on tests, bar graphs displaying school funding, pie charts revealing teacher experience.

The colorful pages released Monday by New York state officials are an illustration of how the state could display information about schools to the public. Creating a “dashboard” is part of the state’s broad rethinking of what it means to be a successful school under the new federal education law.

State officials stressed that this is only an illustration of what it could look like and it’s very much a work in progress. They are not required to submit the “dashboard” with their final plan, which is required by September under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act — so they have some time. Still, the early glance provides clues about the state’s approach.

The state’s new dashboard reflects its desire to avoid a narrow focus on test scores and instead provide several different measures of whether a school is succeeding or needs to improve. Under ESSA, dashboards can include virtually any statistic, including comparisons among similar students, suspension rates or factors such as school funding and teacher experience.

The main drawback of dashboards is that they can be confusing. Between bar graphs, scatter plots and rating systems, they can make it difficult for parents or the public to draw simple conclusions — or even understand the information — about their own schools, critics argue.

So far, the head of the state’s Parent Teacher Association said these dashboard mock-ups are a good sign, but there is more to discuss.

“Overall, this would be a step in the right direction,” said Kyle Belokopitsky, its executive director. “The sample may need revisions so parents can fully understand the content.”

Here are the mock-ups provided Monday, which the state cautioned are early drafts and would not be finalized without parental input.

Sample “School-At-A-Glance”:

The one-page snapshot includes information about whether students have completed advanced coursework, such as passing Algebra II or graduating with an Advanced Regents diploma. It also has information about test scores and graduation rates, but comparisons —  at least on the draft — occur only in a 1-4 rating system based on a formula that determines how a school compares to others in the state.

Sample “Report Card Dashboard”:

This more detailed draft report uses one to four stars to show how schools compare to other schools statewide, both as a whole and in terms of how they serve particular subgroups, including African-American students, Hispanic students or English language learners. The “subgroup” idea has already generated some controversy, with critics arguing it sets lower expectations for some groups of students and could be confusing for parents.

The more information the state provides, the more complicated the dashboard can get — and that garnered some apprehension from observers.

“I hope they’ll be clear about how these school report card stats were generated,” tweeted Bobson Wong, a teacher at a large public high school in Queens. “Lots of hidden info in there.”

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said the state will work with parents to ensure it is easy to understand.

“We’re going to be working with groups of parents,” Elia said. “That will all be part of a process to gather what it is we really need to include and when we include it, what’s the best way to include it so that it’s transparent.”

The dashboards also give the state a chance to experiment with “equity” indicators. Some of the sample measures included in the mock-ups include the ratio of guidance counselors to students, access to specific classes, or level of integration.

Taking a more careful look at “inputs” like these is in line with the direction the Regents have been headed under Chancellor Betty Rosa’s leadership: away from evaluating schools based on student test scores and toward an approach that tries to assess whether their students had access to a quality education. In an interview with Chalkbeat earlier this year, Rosa explained her theory of improving schools.

“Just because you raise the bar [does not mean] the student can jump over that bar without building the steps to get them there,” Rosa said. “For me, it’s more important to build those steps.”

Changes

Denver East High principal Andy Mendelsberg out after investigation into cheerleading scandal

PHOTO: John Leyba / The Denver Post
Denver's East High School.

The principal of Denver’s East High School has retired after an investigation into how school district officials handled complaints about the actions of the school’s cheerleading coach found principal Andy Mendelsberg “did not take the necessary steps to ensure that the physical and emotional health and safety of the students on the cheer team was fully protected,” according to a letter from Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

Former East principal John Youngquist will return to Denver to lead the school, Boasberg announced Friday. Youngquist served for the past four years as a top official in Aurora Public Schools.

East is the most-requested high school in Denver Public Schools. The 2,500-student school is known for its comprehensive academic program, as well as its breadth of sports and extracurricular activities.

Mendelsberg had been on leave since August, when 9News first aired videos that showed East cheerleaders being forced into the splits position while teammates held their arms and legs and former coach Ozell Williams pushed them down.

The parents of at least one cheerleader who was injured by the practice emailed a video to the East High athletic director in mid-June asking “what the administration is going to do about my daughter’s injury and how it happened,” according to emails provided to 9News.

After the 9News story broke two months later, Williams was fired.

Mendelsberg’s exit coincides with the conclusion of an independent investigation by an outside law firm commissioned by DPS. The district on Friday released a report detailing the firm’s findings.

According to Boasberg’s letter, the investigation found that “over multiple months, in response to multiple concerns of a serious nature,” Mendelsberg and East athletic director Lisa Porter failed to keep the students on the cheer team safe.

Specifically, the letter says Mendelsberg and Porter did not “sufficiently address, share or report allegations of abuse and the contents of the videos;” failed to provide the necessary level of oversight for the cheer coach, “especially as concerns mounted;” and failed to take corrective action, including firing Williams.

At a press conference Friday afternoon, Boasberg said that in addition to what was captured on video, concerns about Williams included that he instructed athletes not to tell anyone what happened at practice and required them to friend him on social media “with the express purpose of him monitoring their social media presence.”

Boasberg said that “raises deeper concerns about what was going on here.”

Mendelsberg, Porter, assistant cheer coach Mariah Cladis and district deputy general counsel Michael Hickman were put on leave while the investigation was ongoing. The Denver police also launched an investigation.

Porter resigned her position earlier this week, Boasberg said.

Hickman received corrective action but is being reinstated after the investigation revealed he didn’t know the full extent of what happened, Boasberg said.

Cladis, who was not at practice during the splits incident and whose position was volunteer, is welcome to remain the assistant cheer coach, he said.

Mendelsberg had been principal since 2011. But he’d worked at East much longer as a teacher, softball coach, dean of students, athletic director and assistant principal, according to a story in the Spotlight alumni newsletter published in 2012.

Youngquist preceded Mendelsberg, having served as principal of East from 2007 to 2011. He left the school to take a districtwide position leading the recruitment and development of DPS principals. In 2013, Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn hired him to be that district’s chief academic officer, a job he’s held until now.

Regarding his decision to return to East, Youngquist said, “My heart has drawn me toward supporting this learning community now and well into the future.”

As a parent and school leader, he said he understands the trust that parents put in schools. “I’m committed to strengthening that bond and partnership with our young people, our parents and with our great East staff,” he said.

Munn has already appointed an interim chief academic officer: Andre Wright, who currently serves as a P-20 learning community director. In a statement Friday, Munn said he “will evaluate the role and expectations of the (chief academic officer) position prior to developing a profile for that position moving forward.”

“We thank John Youngquist for his four years of service … and wish him all the best in his next chapter,” Munn said.

Chalkbeat reporter Yesenia Robles contributed information to this report.

showdown

McQueen’s deadline looms for Memphis and Nashville to share student info with charter schools — and no one is budging

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
A request for student contact information from Green Dot Public Schools to help with enrollment efforts sparked a fight between the state and Shelby County Schools.

As Tennessee’s two largest school districts fought an order to share student information with charter schools, the state education commissioner set a deadline last week.

Candice McQueen told the superintendents of Shelby County Schools and Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools they had to provide the data to charter schools that asked for it by Sept. 25 — or the state would “be forced to consider actions to enforce the law.”

But with just three days until the deadline, neither district has said it will budge. The consequences “will be determined Monday,” McQueen told Chalkbeat on Friday.

McQueen has not offered more information about what those consequences could be, though some lawmakers have worried it could mean funding cuts. There is some precedent for such a move: The Nashville district lost $3.4 million in state funding in 2012 when it refused to approve a controversial charter school, according to The Tennessean.

The clash comes after the Nashville and Memphis districts refused to turn over student contact information to charter networks, who argue that information is vital to their operation. Many Memphis schools, including those in the state-run school district, have been struggling with under-enrollment.

An amendment to an untested U.S. Department of Education rule suggests local districts can withhold information like phone numbers, addresses and email addresses — but a new state law requires Tennessee districts to hand it over to charter schools within 30 days.

The state department of education asked the attorney general’s office to weigh in. Last week, the attorney general said the districts had to turn the information over, but also that districts could take a “reasonable period of time” to notify parents about their right to opt out.

Shelby County Schools posted opt-out forms for parents on its website the next day, and gave parents until Oct. 22 to fill them out. The form allows parents to keep their information from charter schools specifically or from outside entities more broadly, including companies like yearbook providers, for example.

What Memphis parents should know about how schools share student information

The school boards for the two districts have been in lockstep in defying the state’s order, with the Memphis board even offering to write a legal opinion if Nashville were to go to court over the issue.

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said his legal team is still reviewing the attorney general’s opinion.

“We still want to make sure parents know what their options are,” Hopson told Chalkbeat on Tuesday. “When we [McQueen and I] talked, she understood that our opt-out forms were out there.”

Anna Shepherd, board chair for the Nashville district, said the board met with its attorney this week to discuss the issue but took no action.

“We have not had any further conversation with the state concerning the release of data for MNPS students,” Shepherd said by email. “I’m not anticipating any action [before Monday].”

Reporter Caroline Bauman contributed to this report.