Parents and educators have a new tool to gauge student progress and performance this week, as the state Department of Education completed its rollout of the California School Dashboard following a lengthy trial run.

Released Thursday morning, local district officials welcome the dashboard as it signals a shift from the test-based Academic Performance Index (API) that ranked schools and students by standardized test scores toward a nuanced snapshot that measures student success across a number of measurements.

"We lived for a long time in a very black-and-white world when it came to rating schools," said John Davis, assistant superintendent for curriculum at the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District. "It was all about that one number (API) — that was how everyone judged us. We didn't like it because it was an incomplete picture of what was going on at school and are happy to have a new system that encompasses all of these different indicators."

Comprised of six statewide indicators — Smarter Balanced test results, progress made by English Learners, graduation rates, suspension rates, college and career readiness and chronic absenteeism rates — that complement individually defined local indicators, the dashboard balances the ability for districts to compare their performance with a localized view of student performance.

When considering only test results as a measure of student performance, several northern Santa Barbara County school districts — Santa Maria-Bonita and Santa Maria Joint Union — struggle to match up with schools in southern Santa Barbara County and across California. However, data presented by the dashboard indicates an improvement across several metrics, specifically suspension rates and progress made by students classified as English learners.

"Overall, when you look at the state indicators, we saw a significant improvement in the English Learner progress indicator," said Nicole Wiseman, coordinator of curriculum and instruction with the Santa Maria-Bonita School District. Since 2015, the district has improved progress by English learners by roughly 9 percent — up from 59.8 to 68.5 percent.

"Our focus over the last two years has been on providing for English learners. It was beneficial for us to be able to compare the programs we've put in place with our improvement and accomplishments."

Wiseman hopes the improvement in language ability by English learners will translate to increased academic performance and improvements across other other metrics. 

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"If you're now proficient in English, hopefully it will no longer become a barrier to your academics," she said.

Within the high school district, dashboard results indicate the school is suspending fewer students (4.7 percent) than in 2015 (7 percent) and has improved English learner progress by more than 10 percent. 

"The district has done a tremendous job in enhancing our services for EL (English learner) students," Davis said. "We're doing a much better job of working with and providing services for those students."

Parents can access the School Dashboard by going to https://www.caschooldashboard.org. Results can be broken down to a district- or schoolwide level.

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga

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Education Reporter

Santa Maria Times reporter Mathew Burciaga covers education for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.