D.C. SBOE and OSSE are currently developing a new accountability system under ESSA that will meet the needs of D.C. students. ESSA implementation begins in the 2017-2018 school year. Working together, the SBOE and OSSE must decide what indicators of school quality should be included in the accountability system, goals for improvement in each category (for all students and each subgroup of students), and how to weight the various accountability components.
OSSE produced a “straw man” draft meant to elicit comments. The SBOE responded with recommendations about what should be changed. We are specifically looking for feedback on three areas related to ESSA.
The Weight of Testing: How much should test scores count in the school rating? The OSSE discussion draft suggests 80%; the SBOE response memo suggests it should be much lower. Overwhelmingly, parents and teachers echoed sentiments in their testimony that so much weight on testing has damaged education and has lead to a narrowing of the curriculum. There is pressure on schools to focus on teaching students who are close to the proficient cusp instead of those who score substantially higher or lower; a disincentive for schools to enroll challenging students, whose test scores typically grow more slowly; and, not enough attention to the non-academic aspects of education, including providing a nurturing, safe, challenging, engaging environment. Moving forward, parents and teachers want testing to be set at the lowest level allowed by law.
The Weight of Growth (Individual Progress) in Relation to Proficiency (Achieving Set Standards): Rather than only holding schools accountable for reaching specific proficiency levels, ESSA offers the opportunity for DC to rate schools based on the academic progress students achieve. In spirited testimony throughout the evening, there was a nearly universal call for increasing the emphasis on student progress and including a measure of growth in the new plan.
The OSSE straw man draft gives equal weight to proficiency and growth. The SBOE has written in its response that giving equal weight to proficiency and growth is “unfair in principle and unhelpful in practice. Schools that enroll lower scoring students—on average, students who are poorer, don’t speak English, and are in special education—have to be many times more effective than their counterparts to earn an equivalent rating…. In effect, under the current and currently proposed system, “when students begin their year at a low score, the school is in effect penalized for not raising the child multiple grade levels.
Safety, Engagement and Environment Indicators: The SBOE believes that it is important for all students, teachers and parents to feel welcome, safe, and engaged in their school—all qualities that research says directly influence achievement. This relates to many factors including facilities, school discipline, attendance, bullying, parent engagement, teacher turnover, and student reenrollment. Policy experts testified to the need for a climate survey that is research-based. The goal would be to measure the aspects of safety, engagement and environment that predict achievement. When we focus primarily on test scores, we lead schools to overly focus on test prep and the two tested subjects rather than a well-rounded education.
During the November SBOE Public Meeting, we invited ALL interested members of the public to testify about the initial accountability strawman provided by OSSE and the SBOE response to that strawman. Watch the discussion here.
During the December SBOE Public Meeting, three ESSA policy experts, a charter school Vice President of Policy, and a Ward 5 charter school parent provided testimony to the Board. Watch the discussion here.