Los Angeles Unified School District officials introduced a method this week that looks at the progression of students through a different lens, and local educators are in the midst of digesting what the information all means.
The method, announced and discussed at the school board’s afternoon meeting earlier this week, is called Academic Growth over Time (AGT). As one of the facets of a larger teacher-student evaluation system, AGT examines students’ achievements on standardized tests from year to year and uses that raw data to come up with estimates for student growth.
The LAUSD website states that the AGT system “allows us to examine the impact of schools and educators on student learning outcomes and uses a value-added method that controls for external factors which often influence student test results.” The website also touts AGT as proving a more “complete” look at a student’s progression.
“What we’ve seen is that some of the schools that were labeled as ‘failing’ schools are actually making tremendous growth,” said Sarah Figueroa, who works in policy and program development for LAUSD. “We want to make sure those schools are given the tools they need. It paints a different picture for those schools.”
The district has chosen to introduce AGT information in separate phases. The first phase began with the Wednesday launch of English and math data for third through eighth-grade students. The second phase will feature more subjects and a wider range of grades. The data is compiled into online reports the public can access through the LAUSD website.
The reports use a system of numbers and colors to denote the estimated growth of students in a particular field, such as math or English. The colors are blue, green, gray, yellow and red. Blue is the most favorable color, signifying the highest growth. At the opposite end of the spectrum is red, which notes that student growth in an area is far below projected AGT estimates. The reports show estimates from the past academic year as well as the past three years.
Figueroa stresses that reports pockmarked with reds and yellows aren’t designed to shine a negative spotlight on certain schools, but to get parents who see the reports to ask questions.
“It’s not intended to be a punitive thing,” she said. “But for a parent, the question would be to the school, ‘Can you tell me what’s happening?’ There could be a variety of reasons–high turnover, the school implementing a program that didn’t work–it allows parents to start the conversations.”
Debate and controvery accompany AGT and its value-added roots, especially on the heels of a Los Angeles Times analysis of how effectively teachers are navigating students through the waters of standardized testing. Opponents of the approach, including the teachers union, see it as unfair and too unstable to rely upon for formal teacher evaluation -- which is the next step the district is trying to make.
Some educators in Eagle Rock are keeping the new methodology at arms length. Salvador Velasco, principal of , said he doesn’t mind using multiple measures and different ways to check the progress of students, but there are still some wrinkles to iron out.
For instance, a glance at Eagle Rock High’s overall AGT results signals that the growth of the school's seventh and eighth graders in math and English is well below the state’s AGT average. But Velasco emphasizes that the AGT reports focus on growth, not academic achievement. He also said AGT and other value-added measures don't take into account other dynamic factors.
“If you have two schools one mile away from each other, and you’ve taken in all of the socioeconomic factors, but neglect to account for the fact that one school gets more money than the other to provide for their students, then the comparison is already skewed, in my opinion,” he said.
"If you have a school with a 550 API, and you have another school with a 680 API, the district can look at the school with the 680 and say, 'OK, you're doing so well, we don't need to worry about you.' " he continued. "But then you look at the 550 school and say, 'Oh, pobrecito, you need help,' and that school gets funding and resources to grow. It can go from 550 to 580 and get all the nice colors in the report, while the school with the 680 score can get to 690, and it won't show as much growth."
District materials outlining AGT state that prior CST scores, grade level, gender, race/ethnicity, low-income status, ELL (English-Language Learner) status, special education status and homelessness are elements that have been factored into the reports.
Raul Fernandez, the principal of said it’s important that AGT be taken into the proper perspective as teachers, students and parents begin to digest the data. Toland Way’s AGT report puts the school around the district’s average estimates.
“It’s a new instrument we use,” he said. “AGT answers a lot of those specific questions for us. But it’s just one instrument–what’s been hard sometimes is that people look at AGT as the end-all, be-all, and it’s not.”
Figueroa said many of the questions that teachers have relayed regarding AGT have focused on how subjects such as art and physical education would be measured. There have also been inquiries as to when, or if, teacher information would be released to the public. But Fernandez believes something as talent-oriented as the arts is too much of a stretch to try and measure compared to other subjects.
“That’s a talent that needs to be taught,” he said. “I can tell you to draw a circle, and I can draw a circle, and both of them can look different. Mine might look more like an oval – but we both know what a circle is.”
If you want to check out the AGT reports for a school, you can find them here.