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.”

Follow the money

Final Denver school board campaign finance reports show who brought in the most late money

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Victoria Tisman, 8, left, works with paraprofessional Darlene Ontiveros on her Spanish at Bryant-Webster K-8 school in Denver.

Final campaign finance reports for this year’s hard-fought Denver school board elections are in, and they show a surge of late contributions to Angela Cobián, who was elected to represent southwest Denver and ended up bringing in more money than anyone else in the field.

The reports also showed the continued influence of independent groups seeking to sway the races. Groups that supported candidates who favor Denver Public Schools’ current direction raised and spent far more than groups that backed candidates looking to change things.

No independent group spent more during the election than Raising Colorado, which is affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform. In the week and a half before the Nov. 7 election, it spent $126,985. That included nearly $57,000 to help elect Rachele Espiritu, an incumbent supportive of the district’s direction who lost her seat representing northeast Denver to challenger Jennifer Bacon. Raising Colorado spent $13,765 on mail opposing Bacon in that same period.

Teachers union-funded committees also were active in the campaign.

Individually, Cobián raised more money in the days before the election than the other nine candidates combined. She pulled in $25,335 between Oct. 30 and Dec. 2.

That includes a total of $11,000 from three members of the Walton family that founded Walmart: Jim, Alice and Steuart. The Waltons have over the years invested more than $1 billion in education-related causes, including the creation of charter schools.

Total money raised, spent by candidates
  • Angela Cobián: $123,144, $105,200
    Barbara O’Brien: $117,464, $115,654
    Mike Johnson: $106,536, $103,782
    Rachele Espiritu: $94,195, $87,840
    Jennifer Bacon: $68,967, $67,943
    Carrie A. Olson: $35,470, $35,470
    Robert Speth: $30,635, $31,845
    “Sochi” Gaytan: $28,977, $28,934
    Tay Anderson: $18,766, $16,865
    Julie Bañuelos: $12,962, $16,835

Cobián was supported in her candidacy by donors and groups that favor the district’s brand of education reform, which includes collaborating with charter schools. In the end, Cobián eclipsed board vice president Barbara O’Brien, who had been leading in contributions throughout the campaign, to raise the most money overall: a total of $123,144.

The two candidates vying to represent central-east Denver raised about $5,000 each in the waning days of the campaign. Incumbent Mike Johnson pulled in $5,300, including $5,000 from Colorado billionaire Phil Anschutz. Teacher Carrie A. Olson, who won the seat, raised $4,946 from a host of donors, none of whom gave more than $500 during that time period.

The other candidates raised less than $5,000 each between Oct. 30 and Dec. 2.

O’Brien, who staved off two competitors to retain her seat representing the city at-large, spent the most in that period: $31,225. One of her competitors, Julie Bañuelos, spent the least.

money matters

In election of big spending, winning Aurora candidates spent less but got outside help

Four new board members, Kyla Armstrong-Romero, Marques Ivey, Kevin Cox and Debbie Gerkin after they were sworn in. (Photo courtesy of Aurora Public Schools)

A slate of Aurora school board candidates that won election last month were outspent by some of their rival campaigns — including in the final days of the race — but benefited from big spending by a union-backed independent committee.

Outside groups that backed the winning slate spent more overall during the campaign, but wound down as pro-education reform groups picked up their spending in the last period right before the election. Those efforts were not enough to push their candidates to victory.

According to the last campaign finance reports turned in on Thursday and covering activity from Oct. 26 through Dec. 2, Gail Pough and Miguel Lovato spent the most from their individual contributions.

Together Pough and Lovato spent more than $7,000 on calls, canvassing and consulting fees. Both candidates were supported by reform groups and had been reporting the most individual contributions in previous campaign finance reports.

But it was the slate of candidates endorsed by the teachers union — Kevin Cox, Debbie Gerkin, Kyla Armstrong-Romero and Marques Ivey — that prevailed on election night.

How much did candidates raise, spend?

  • Gail Pough, $12,756.32; $12,328.81
  • Lea Steed, $1,965.00; $1,396.16
  • Kyla Armstrong Romero, $7,418.83; $3,606.12
  • Kevin Cox, $2,785.54; $2,993.07
  • Miguel Lovato, $16,856.00; $16,735.33
  • Jane Barber, $1,510.32; $1,510.32
  • Debbie Gerkin, $4,690.00; $4,516.21
  • Marques Ivey, $5,496.50; $5,638.57
  • Barbara Yamrick, did not file

The slate members spent varying amounts in the last few days before the election. For instance, Cox, who won the most votes, spent $403 while Ivey who recorded the fewest votes of the four winning candidates, spent $2,056.

Most of the slate candidates’ spending went to Facebook ads and consulting fees.

The four also reported large amounts in non-monetary contributions. Collectively, the slate members reported about $76,535 in non-monetary contributions, mostly from union funds, to cover in-kind mail, polling, office space and printing. All four also reported a non-monetary contribution in the form of a robocall from the Arapahoe County Democratic Party.

Other financial support for candidates, through independent expenditure committees, showed that the group Every Student Succeeds which was backed by union dollars and was supporting the union slate, spent less in the last days than the reform groups Raising Colorado and Families First Colorado which were supporting Pough and Lovato.

Overall, the independent expenditure committee groups spent more than $419,000 trying to sway Aurora voters.

Incumbent Barbara Yamrick failed to file any campaign finance reports throughout the campaign.

This story has been updated to include more information about in-kind contributions to the union-backed candidates.