How California Uses Health Indicators to Improve Schools

November 30, 2016 | Written By:


As state and local education agencies around the country develop plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act, there are many opportunities to support student health and wellness. This is important because healthy, active and well-nourished children are more likely to attend school, be ready to learn and stay engaged in class.

Some education agencies have already been finding ways to identify key health indicators and use that data to develop partnerships and improve school environments. One such example exists in the CORE Districts of California.

The California Office to Reform Education (CORE) Districts was founded as an association of California’s largest urban school districts, now representing more than 1.7 million students. CORE’s mission statement is to collaborate in order to “innovate, implement, and scale successful strategies and tools that help our students succeed, so that all students are prepared for college and career.”

In 2013, the U.S. Education Department granted CORE’s request for a waiver under NCLB, allowing CORE to implement their own accountability system, separate from the state of California’s system. This waiver also gives CORE the ability to largely regulate themselves with help from a new independent oversight panel. With this newfound flexibility, CORE established the School Quality Improvement Index (SQII).

In addition to academic indicators, the SQII includes metrics to measure social-emotional and culture climate factors, including chronic absenteeism rates; culture-climate surveys of students, teachers, and parents; suspension/expulsion rates; and social-emotional skills.

During the 2014-2015 school year, CORE conducted a field test of measures of four social-emotional skills involving more than 450,000 students in grades 3-12. According to the Brookings Institute, “analysis of data from the CORE field test indicates that the scales used to measure student skills demonstrate strong reliability and are positively correlated with key indicators of academic performance and behavior, both across and within schools” and “[t]hese findings provide a broadly encouraging view of the potential for self-reports of social-emotional skills as an input into its system for evaluating school performance.”

This is one example of how a state is using health metrics to improve schools. We recently released “State ESSA Plans that Support Student Health and Wellness: A Framework for Action.” This document was developed in conjunction with Alliance for a Healthier Generation. The purpose of this document is to assist health and wellness stakeholders in getting involved in state-level conversations around ESSA.

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