Lessons for Improving Network Collaboration
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Collaborative networks that use continuous improvement principles and tools can accelerate and spread learning across sites and contexts. Districts face unprecedented challenges in meeting students’ and families’ needs in rapidly changing conditions. Collaborative networks can be powerful drivers of system improvement. Collaborating well is key to maximizing a network’s effectiveness.

Removing Barriers to Data Accessibility
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Parental engagement has been shown to be a key lever for improving outcomes for all students. It can positively influence grades, test scores, and graduation rates for all students. Increased engagement is also shown to improve the outcomes of underserved student populations, positively impacting low-income, Black, and Latinx students in both primary and secondary settings. Additionally, parental engagement has been found to be a critical support in blended and distance learning environments—a need that has intensified with the shift to distance learning in response to COVID-19.

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Prior work has shown that levels of self-reported student social-emotional learning (SEL) predict student achievement levels—as well as student achievement gains—but little has been done to understand if within-student changes in student reports of SEL are predictive of changes in theoretically related academic and behavioral outcomes.

Characteristics, Outcomes, and Transitions
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In this brief, we leverage data from eight school districts, known as the CORE districts, to describe students with disabilities (SWDs) by their characteristics, outcomes, and transitions into and out of special education. We found that the most common disability type was a specific learning disability. Relative to their representation among students districtwide, males, African Americans, English language learners, and foster youth were more highly represented among SWDs. In terms of outcomes, chronic absence was more prevalent among children with multiple disabilities.

The Impact of Unmotivated Questionnaire Respondents on Data Quality
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Education researchers use surveys widely. Yet, critics question respondents’ ability to provide high-quality responses. As schools increasingly use student surveys to drive policymaking, respondents’ (lack of) motivation to provide quality responses may threaten the wisdom of using surveys for data-based decision-making. To better understand student satisficing (sub-optimal responding on surveys) and its impact on data quality, we examined the pervasiveness and impact of this practice on a large-scale social-emotional learning survey administered to 409,721 students in grades 2-12.
Evidence from California’s CORE School Districts
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While the importance of social-emotional learning for student success is well established, educators and researchers have less knowledge and agreement about which social-emotional skills are most important for students and how these skills distribute across student subgroups.
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We illustrate the application of mixture IRT models to evaluate the possibility of respondent confusion due to the negative wording of certain items on a social-emotional learning (SEL) assessment. Using actual student self-report ratings on four social-emotional learning scales collected from students in grades 3-12 from CORE districts in the state of California, we also evaluate the consequences of the potential confusion in biasing student- and school-level scores as well as correlational relationships between SEL and student-level variables.
Consistent Gender Differences in Students’ Self-Efficacy
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Academic self-efficacy is a student’s belief in their ability to perform within a school environment. Prior research shows that students experience a drop in academic self-efficacy during middle school that is particularly steep for female students and results in lower self-efficacy for girls than boys throughout middle and high school. In this brief, we probe whether this pattern is consistent across student groups defined by demographics, achievement level, and school of attendance.
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This brief applies value-added models to student surveys in the CORE Districts to explore whether social-emotional learning (SEL) surveys can be used to measure effective classroom-level supports for SEL. The authors find that classrooms differ in their effect on students’ growth in self-reported SEL—even after accounting for school-level effects. Results suggest that classroom-level effects within schools may be larger than school-level effects.
Lessons from the CORE Districts
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The education sector is embracing the hope that continuous improvement will lead to more beneficial student outcomes than standards-based reform and other approaches to policies and practice in prior decades. This report examines attempts in California to realize the potential of continuous improvement in some of the state’s largest districts. Policy Analysis for California Education and the CORE Districts, a nonprofit collaborative of eight urban school districts, have been engaged in a research-practice partnership since 2015.
Evidence from the CORE Districts and the PACE/USC Rossier Poll
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The number of students opting out of standardized tests has grown in recent years. This phenomenon poses a potential threat to our ability to accurately measure student achievement in schools and districts. This brief documents the extent to which opting out is observed in the CORE districts and models how higher opt-out levels could affect various accountability measures.

Evidence from California’s CORE Districts
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Existing research on self-management skills shows that measures of self- management predict student success. However, these conclusions are based on small samples or narrowly defined self-management measures. Using a rich longitudinal dataset of 221,840 fourth through seventh grade students, this paper describes self-management gaps across student groups, and confirms, at a large scale, the predictive power of self-management for achievement gains, even with unusually rich controls for students’ background, previous achievement, and measures of other social-emotional skills.
A Research Summary and Implications for Practice
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Given the importance of a college degree for both individual and societal economic prosperity, policymakers and educators are focused on strengthening the path to college beyond college entry. In this report, we synthesize the existing literature on four factors key to educational attainment—aspirations and beliefs, academic preparation, knowledge and information, and fortitude and resilience—and the implications of each.
  • Aspirations and beliefs—the belief that college is possible and integral to educational success.
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Continuous improvement is a holistic and research-based approach to education grounded in the belief that every system is designed to achieve the results it gets; therefore, change must be systemwide, not piecemeal. California is a national leader in the continuous improvement movement that is spreading throughout local school districts as well as state and county offices of education. At its annual conference in February 2019, PACE convened a panel of California educators working on the cutting edge of continuous improvement. In this brief, they share their stories and lessons learned.
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Although there is a robust body of literature studying targets for academic indicators within school quality systems few studies explore target setting for non-academic indicators. Focusing on elementary schools within the CORE districts, we investigate how moving performance targets for non-academic indicators affects school quality ratings.
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School value-added models are increasingly used to measure schools’ contributions to student success. At the same time, policymakers and researchers agree that schools should support students’ social-emotional learning (SEL) as well as academic development. Yet, the evidence regarding whether schools can influence SEL and whether statistical growth models can appropriately measure this influence is limited. Recent work shows meaningful differences across schools in changes in SEL scores by grade, but whether these differences represent the effects of schools is still unclear.

Building System Capacity to Learn
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Creating continuously improving education systems could be the antidote to one-off education reforms that come and go with little to show for the effort. The strategy has been picking up steam in recent years, urged on by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA); the California Department of Education; and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which recently announced that it is earmarking 60 percent of its $1.7 billion investment in education during the next five years to support school improvement networks.

What Do We Know?
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The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on July 1, 2013, represents the first comprehensive change in the state’s education funding system in 40 years. The LCFF eliminates nearly all categorical funding streams, shifts control of most education dollars from the state to local school districts, and empowers districts, through a process of stakeholder engagement, to shape resource allocation goals and priorities to meet local needs.

Evidence from the CORE Districts
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Mounting evidence demonstrates that social-emotional skills are important for students’ academic and life success, yet we have limited evidence on how these skills develop over time and how this development varies across student subgroups. In this study, we use the first large-scale panel survey of social-emotional learning (SEL) to describe how four SEL constructs—growth-mindset, self-efficacy, self-management, and social awareness—develop from Grade 4 to Grade 12, and how these trends vary by gender, socioeconomic status, and race/ethnicity.
Findings from the First Large-Scale Panel Survey of Students
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Measures of school-level growth in student outcomes are common tools used to assess the impacts of schools. The vast majority of these measures are based on standardized tests, even though emerging evidence demonstrates the importance of social-emotional skills (SEL). This paper uses the first large-scale panel surveys of students on SEL to produce and evaluate school-level value-added measures by grade for growth mindset, self-efficacy, self-management, and social awareness. We find substantive differences across schools in SEL growth, of magnitudes similar to those for academic achievement.
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This report and accompanying policy brief show that there is good reason to pursue the measurement of social-emotional learning (SEL) and school culture/climate (CC) as a way to better understand student and school performance. Using data from California's CORE districts, we show that SEL and CC measures demonstrate reliability and validity, distinguish between schools, are related to other academic and non-academic measures, and also illuminate dimensions of student achievement that go beyond traditional indicators.

Learning from the CORE Districts' Focus on Measurement, Capacity Building, and Shared Accountability
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Summary and Policy Implications

Multiple measures and the identification of schools under ESSA
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The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) makes sweeping changes to the way school performance is measured. Using the innovative measurement system developed by the CORE Districts in California, the authors explore how schools can be identified for support and improvement using a multiple measures framework.
Comparing Different Student Subgroup Sizes for Accountability
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With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015, California state policymakers are tasked with determining the subgroup threshold for school-level reporting. To inform this decision, this policy brief explores the implications of utilizing various subgroup sizes using data from the CORE Districts. The authors find that the 20+ subgroup size presents clear advantages in terms of the number of students represented, particularly in making historically underserved student populations visible.

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With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015, California must integrate additional measures of student and school performance into the state-wide accountability system. To support the conversation as policymakers consider if/how to include chronic absenteeism data in the state’s accountability system, PACE has conducted an analysis of the CORE Districts’ student chronic absenteeism data.