Big Ways that Big Data is Reshaping Local Education

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More than ever before, we have the tools to measure and analyze the performance of our students and schools at an extraordinary level of detail. Here in Ventura County, several initiatives are harnessing the power of information to benefit students starting in preschool and continuing through higher education. In this edition of Focus on Education, find out how Ventura County educators are putting the education data revolution to work for our students. Read it below on your computer or tap here to view on your mobile device.


 Spring 2018 Stanley C. Mantooth, Ventura County Superintendent of Schools 
The Big Ways that Big Data is Reshaping Education
In the business world, it's often said that measuring something is the first step to improving it, and the same holds true in education. More than ever before, we have the tools to measure and analyze the performance of our students and schools at an extraordinary level of detail.
With this new trove of information comes great responsibility and great opportunity. Properly used, this data can give us unprecedented insight into what's working and what isn't. It can help us make better choices on spending and curriculum, and assist in efforts to expand educational opportunity for all student populations.
Here in Ventura County, several initiatives are harnessing the power of information to benefit students starting in preschool and continuing through higher education. In this edition of Focus on Education, find out how Ventura County educators are putting the education data revolution to work for our students.
Stan Mantooth
Ventura County Superintendent of Schools
Looking Beyond Test Scores to Evaluate Schools
Launched last spring, the California School Dashboard provides a new way to gauge the performance of local schools and districts. In addition to test scores in English language arts and math, the Dashboard shows how schools are doing in other important areas such as graduation rate, suspension rate and college readiness.
The Dashboard displays results for each of these indicators using a color-coded ranking system that goes from red to blue. It also breaks down performance by ethnicity and other student groups like English learners, foster youth and those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged. It's a key part of the ongoing effort to eliminate the achievement gap that exists in California schools.
"When we see students who are not able to keep up with their peers, that's a red flag that says we're missing something," says Dr. Antonio Castro, Associate Superintendent for Educational Services at the Ventura County Office of Education. "It also gives us a chance to celebrate the bright spots we're seeing and to learn from the success of schools that are doing well." 
Unlike the old Academic Performance Index, the Dashboard does not provide a single number that ranks each school. "No school setting or educational experience can be boiled down to a single number," Castro says. By looking at other factors in addition to academics, the Dashboard presents a more complete picture of how schools are performing. It also makes it easier to see how schools are changing over time so progress can be recognized and deficiencies addressed.
Districts that have a particular student group in the red zone for two or more indicators are now getting extra help from their county office of education so they can make improvements. The Dashboard data is also guiding districts as they allocate staff and funding so they can focus on the areas of greatest need.
recent poll  found that 72 percent of people who have heard of the Dashboard had a positive impression of it. Parents who are primarily interested in comparing test scores are still able to do so on the state's  CAASPP results website . But those who would like a more thorough picture of how schools are serving students will find it on the Dashboard's website at
Diving Deep into Data to Improve Student Outcomes
The wealth of data that schools collect on their students could hold the key to solving some of the biggest challenges in public education. Thanks to a new partnership, that data is being put to work in Ventura County like never before.
The Ventura County Office of Education and three local school districts recently became part of a statewide group called the CORE Districts. Founded in 2010, this collaborative organization allows member districts to share student-level data that can provide invaluable insights for educators.
"For example, we could run a comparison among CORE partners by school or district, sorting by CAASPP results, language proficiency and socioeconomic status, and almost instantly see how those types of schools or districts are performing," says Dr. Antonio Castro, VCOE Associate Superintendent for Educational Services. These data can assist with identifying schools or districts that are achieving uncharacteristically positive results and allow others to study the systems that generated these outcomes.
The CORE Districts partnership was established before the state launched the California School Dashboard and it has some important advantages. It allows more discrete searches and makes it much easier to compare similar districts. Since the CORE Districts database contains demographic and performance information about individual students, it allows their progress to be tracked over time. The system was recently used to highlight ways schools can close the achievement gap in math for Hispanic and African American students. Other uses of the data include improving college readiness, enhancing students' emotional well-being and reducing absences.
The three local districts that have joined VCOE in becoming part of the CORE Districts are the Oxnard School District, the Oxnard Union High School District and the Rio School District. More information about the CORE Districts is available at
Data to Reveal Path to College and Career Success
Why do some students successfully reach their college and career goals while others fail? Why do some schools do a better job than others at preparing these students? These are big questions that a Sacramento-based nonprofit is helping to answer. The Educational Results Partnership (ERP) is working to expand a database known as Cal-PASS Plus, which is the largest collection of information on student achievement in the country. By analyzing reams of data from kindergarten through college and into the job market, ERP can spotlight the educational practices that are having the greatest impact for students.
ERP is able to provide the most useful information by entering into data sharing agreements with school districts, colleges and businesses. "They’re actually able to track what professions students go into and what they earn," says Stan Mantooth, Ventura County Superintendent of Schools.
In his dual role as County Superintendent and Chair of the Ventura County P-20 Council , Mantooth is working on an agreement that will allow interested local school districts to securely share data with ERP. By combining that information with data from local colleges and labor statistics, ERP can provide the most complete picture yet of what happens to Ventura County students after they leave high school.
"This will be very useful for the private sector, but it also helps educators see the impact of what's happening in the classroom," Mantooth says. Schools can use ERP's data to better prepare students for admission to college and enhance their career education programs. It will also be an important tool in reducing the equity gap that makes it harder for underprivileged students to reach their goals.
ERP's data analysis has already uncovered some surprises. For example, they've found that per-pupil spending doesn't accurately predict outcomes and that schools serving similar populations often vary widely in performance. ERP makes its information available to the public at no charge on the Cal-PASS Plus website at
Student IDs for Preschoolers Provide Important Insights
Countless studies have shown the benefits of preschool, but quantifying that impact in California isn't easy. That's because the state's system for tracking student progress only covers transitional kindergarten through twelfth grade.
Ventura County educators are taking action to improve the situation. In 2014, Ventura County Superintendent of Schools Stan Mantooth made it a priority for school districts to start tracking preschool enrollment and performance. Participating districts assign preschool students an ID number that stays with them as they advance through each grade. The students are entered into CALPADS, the state education database that's already in use for TK-12 students. To date, eight Ventura County school districts are including preschoolers in their data collection process and more are expected to come online in the future.
"Now, we'll be able to see how students who attended preschool perform in later grades compared to those who did not," says Carrie Murphy, Director of Early Childhood Programs at the Ventura County Office of Education. "We know preschool makes a difference, and we're excited to have the data to support the work we're doing in early education."
Having hard numbers about the impact of preschool on future academic performance will improve the chances of expanding funding so more children can get their education off to a great start. It will also highlight the preschool programs that are having the greatest impact so others can learn from what they're doing right. The hope is that Ventura County's success with assigning student IDs will inspire action at the state level so that all California parents and educators can have a clearer picture of the ways early education makes a difference.
Alternative Schools to Get More Meaningful Ratings
Alternative high schools serve students who have been expelled or referred from their home schools. By design, their student populations differ greatly from the norm. Many students arrive in the middle of the school year and may stay for just a few months before returning to their school of residence.
"Such a high degree of student transiency makes the standard system of evaluating school performance almost meaningless," says Dr. Roger Rice, Deputy Superintendent for Student Services at the Ventura County Office of Education. "Since the student population is constantly changing, the current accountability ratings swing wildly from year to year and don't reflect the schools' performance with any consistency or accuracy."
That's why Rice agreed to serve on a statewide task force that's working on an improved system to evaluate the performance of alternative schools. It's called the Dashboard Alternative School Status (DASS) and it's slated to be in place for the 2018-19 school year.
An example of one performance metric that may be measured differently for alternative schools is the graduation rate. Instead of looking at how many students graduate in four years, alternative schools may be evaluated on how many of their twelfth-grade students start the year with them and make it to graduation. This reflects the reality that students almost never stay at an alternative school for four years.
The goal of DASS is to give teachers, administrators and parents more meaningful data so they can see where alternative schools are performing well and where they need to improve. "If the right measurements are put in place, it will highlight what's working well and every kid who gets sent to alternative programs will get a better quality education," Rice says.
Once published, results for alternative schools will be available to the public on the California School Dashboard website  that's already in use statewide. More information about DASS is  available here
More Places to Find Data and Stats on Public Schools
Direct from the California Department of Education, DataQuest provides reports on school performance, test results, student demographics and more at the state, county district and school levels.
CAASPP is the place to go for results on the state's standardized tests given in grades 3-8 and 11. You can see results for English language arts and math for your school and district and run comparison reports.
Ed-Data offers a polished, user-friendly interface to much of the data released by the state. You can easily find and compare information on everything from test scores to teacher salaries.
EdSource provides a variety of interactive reports on issues affecting California public schools, including absenteeism, homelessness, vaccination rates and more.
The California State University has an online tool designed to help more high school students make it through college. Search for any high school to see how many students enroll in and graduate from CSU schools, what they major in and more.