We Measure What We Care About

Access to High-Quality Schools, Parent & Family Engagement | 01/31/2020

Leilani Siens
DPS Parent

I’m worried about the direction DPS is headed. We are on a path where parents could lose access to critical information about how their child’s school is doing. You should be worried, too.  

About six months ago, I joined the DPS “Reimagining the School Performance Framework (SPF)” committee. I joined the committee, in part, because my eldest child, Maddie, struggled academically. I was eager to dive into this committee to think about how we could collect more or different data and paint a clearer picture of how schools were serving students.  

Backing up a bit – just to catch you up in case you aren’t too familiar with the SPF – it’s essentially the tool that we in DPS use to measure how well schools are doing and to hold them accountable, including offering them additional supports based on their overall rating. That said, most parents I know think of it as the color rating that helps them choose their schools.  

Share your thoughts about the SPF

My first encounter with the SPF was trying to choose a middle school for my daughter and we had used the SPF in the enrollment guide to try to determine whether it would be worthwhile to drive her across town to a different school with a specific leadership focus rather than just sending her to our neighborhood school. I didn’t have a lot of information to guide me in this process—our friends had not yet navigated middle school, so no one had any recommendations. In the end, I saw and continue to see the SPF as a way to get the information you need to make an informed decision as to where to send your child to school.  

Now, this committee is going to determine what needs to change about the way we hold schools accountable and what information parents receive about school quality. To be honest, my experience with this committee has often been frustrating. And the more conversations I have about the measurement tools and the factors we must consider, the more complex and nuanced—and sometimes overwhelming—this charge has become. Nonetheless, as one of just a few parents selected for this committee, I now believe more than ever that parents must drive the conversation about school quality and what we measure in the SPF because we measure what we care about. Over the course of the next few weeks, I want to share my journey on this committee with you, including the tough topics we’ve wrestled with and hear from you about your experiences with the SPF.  

 So, be honest, and tell us, what has your experience been like with the SPF so far?  

Note: After attending a majority of the SPF Committee meetings, Leilani needed to step down from the committee due to family commitments. 

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  • Hi Leilani, I absolutely applaud your participation in this process and engagement in the dialogue. I also feel like parents need to be able to gather helpful information on how a school can meet their child's needs, regardless of race, ability and/or economic status. As a parent and an educator I have found the SPF to be an ineffective tool that disadvantages some schools that are doing very well, while at the same time marking some schools as danger zones to be avoided at all costs. The SPF relies on our state test, which we know is not an equitable tool to begin with. If parents want to know about how a school performs on the state test they can already access that information through CDE's report card. DPS is spending a lot of time and money to just replicate that. I imagine the biggest concern for some parents is more around the equity gap measures. How do we know if our schools are meeting the needs of all learners, or at least making steps in that direction. I believe that a system that looks at student engagement, discipline data and student growth on more progressive measures throughout the year can give us a more accurate picture on equity. I think a more descriptive tool is more fair than marking a school red, causing neighborhood parents to avoid it and reducing the likelihood that parents are invested in the improvement of that school. Parents then look to the green and blue schools assuming they are the best fit for their child, when it may just be that the numbers of students in the equity data are just too low to be measured. I believe that schools need to be held accountable for being the best for all students, especially when so many of our systems are weighted against are most vulnerable populations. However, I do think it is time for the SPF to go and to find another way to ensure parents learn about the efficacy of DPS schools. With respect.
    Karen Hampel

    February 1, 2020 7:56 AM

  • Thanks for sharing your perspective, Karen. (This is Danielle, btw, State Organizing Director for Stand). Leilani and I have been working together every step of the way on this DPS re-imagining committee, but I wanted to lighten the load for her a little bit and take on responding in case she doesn’t get a chance to. One of the things that Leilani has shared with me that has been frustrating about the committee is that it hasn’t really felt like a “re imagining.” It’s felt like, keep the system that folks don’t like OR go to the state system. And neither are that great—for some of the reasons you outline. As someone who works with parents all the time, I can tell you that especially our immigrant families don’t have the same context to even know that they need to go to the CDE to get data about their school. It’s those families I think about, too, when I hear a push for more descriptive reporting and sharing, rather than ratings. I think we can find technical solutions to the very real problem you name (around student counts being too low to be measured in certain subgroups), but I don’t think that’s a reason to not be clear with families if schools aren’t serving certain groups well. I want every parent in DPS to find the best school for their kids, even parents who may not be great at reading data or be able to read at all. At the end of the day, I think we can find a new way to measure schools and deliver on the commitment of “reimaging the SPF,” but only if DPS truly engages the community around the process. We need to hear what’s working and not working from people like you who know the system well and we need to hear what families need and expect from DPS. I so believe we can build something better, but so far there’s only been one public meeting about it, which was only advertised to families in the central region. I’m excited to think with you and other parents and partners across this district about building something better together and to push DPS to full engage with community in this important process.
    Danielle DeSantis

    February 12, 2020 12:47 PM