LCUSD Named Top-Performing K-12 District in the State
A new study funded by the U.S. Department of Education has identified La Cañada Unified School District as the top performing K-12 school district in California. The study, Raising All Boats: Identifying and Profiling High-Performing California School Districts, was conducted to identify high-performing school districts in California, to learn from their success, and to share their practices with others.
The study, released in September 2012, was conducted by the American Institutes for Research, a non-profit applied research firm, and School Services of California (SSC) under the banner of the California Comprehensive Center at WestEd.
The objectives of the study focused on school and district improvement. Specifically, the study focused on defining, measuring and naming “high performance”
The researchers first identified high-performing districts for their study based primarily on actual achievement substantially exceeding predicted test scores using demographically controlled estimation models. Specifically, a rating was created – a district achievement index (DAI) – that measures performance on the California Standards Tests (CSTs) in English Language Arts and Math and on the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) in Math from 2007-08 through 2010-11. The DAI is a single measure ranging from -2 to +2. DAI greater than zero indicated that a district performed better that statistically predicted while a DAI less than zero indicated performance worse than projected.
However, recognizing that strong performance for the majority of students alone can mask relatively poor performance for some schools and some groups of students, the researchers then added the “raising all boats” criteria. This second level of criteria then filtered the identification process by evaluating all district school sites and subgroup performance (student subgroups included African American, Asians, Hispanics, Caucasians, English learners, low income, and special education students) using the same performance criteria as cited above.
Identifying the Highest-Performing Districts
A list of the thirty K-12 districts meeting all criteria of the study was included in report with the average DAI for each district. The ten highest performing K-12 districts in California according to the study were:
District Average English Language Arts Math
1. La Cañada 1.49 1.26 1.73
2. Piedmont 1.41 1.27 1.54
5. Oak Park 1.00 1.05 0.95
8. Las Virgenes 0.96 0.97 0.95
10. Los Alamitos 0.90 0.83 0.97
Identified Strategies and Challenges for High Performing Districts
The study also identified the most common “strategies” used by high performing districts and their school and district leadership to achieve success. These strategies included:
· A clear instructional vision and process;
· Support for struggling students;
· Strong district and school leadership;
· Emphasis on collaboration.
The primary challenges identified by the study for districts in their efforts to achieve success were:
· Budget cuts;
· Meeting the academic needs of all students;
· Staff resistance to change;
· Relationship with staff associations/unions.
Summary of Report Findings and LCUSD Perspective
This new independent rigorous study conducted by respected researchers used clearly specified criteria to empirically define and identify the highest performing K-12 school districts in
Of the 307 K-12 districts statewide representing more than 70% of California’s public school students, La Cañada outranked all others over the four year time period analyzed in this study.
The researchers highlighted the importance of districts in guiding instructional improvements. Today, school districts are “now expected to serve more as instructional change agents, emphasizing school and district improvement.” La Cañada and 29 additional K-12 districts in California were named as having been especially successful in this endeavor.
For LCUSD the findings of the Raising All Boats: Identifying and Profiling High-Performing California School Districts are very gratifying and affirming. “Former Superintendent, Jim Stratton, and the Governing Board collaborated to implement a rigorous and accountable framework of district-level goal setting that emphasizes strategic initiatives designed to improve student achievement. Wendy Sinnette has embraced this goal-setting process making it more open and an integral part of the District’s culture,” according to Board President Scott Tracy.
The report’s finding strongly support recent LCUSD initiatives emphasizing best practices in instruction. Providing teachers with time to refine their instructional practices via collaboration; adopting the tools to review student achievement data in order to inform and adjust instructional strategies; soliciting the feedback of all stakeholders via teacher, staff, student and parent surveys – have all been efforts designed to “raise all boats.” Other initiatives have been targeted to provide strong support directed at “the middle student”, English Language Learners, and high school math students.
LCUSD, as with all California school districts, continues to face the challenges of the California budget crisis and inadequate State funding, and the complexities of differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all types of learners, but the findings of this independent report validate our ongoing work and reinvigorate our on-going efforts for improvement.
“The report findings allow us to celebrate the efforts of an entire community - one that is united in providing the best possible education to its children”, stated Wendy Sinnette.