Should DC rate its schools mainly on reading and math test scores? What the new fed’l law allows

Jan. 23, 2016 Newsletter

Should DC rate its schools mainly on reading and math test scores? What the new fed’l law allows

Ward 3-Wilson Feeder Education Network Meetings: State Superintendent Hanseul Kang and W3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh to speak at next two Ed Network meetings/ Updates on Fillmore, Old Hardy School/ New network for teachers across private/public/charter sectors
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Happy Holidays and Happy Winter to all!
Over the next two months, the State Board of Education (SBOE) will be working with the Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE) to hammer out an agreement about a new accountability system for DC schools. The main portion of this newsletter is aimed at providing readers with some background, especially on current problems and our options under the new law.

How should we rate our schools?

School rating systems don’t teach kids or provide schools with needed resources. But they matter, a lot.
The way in which schools are rated can encourage–or impede–good school programs and practices. For many years, DC’s school rating system, with its virtually complete emphasis on reading and math test scores, has been largely dictated by the old No Child Left Behind law. Fortunately, the replacement law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), gives all states (including DC) the chance to revise this system.

The current system rates schools narrowly on reading/math test scores

The parents, educators and residents that I speak to around the city believe that academic achievement is the top priority and that reading and math are fundamental. But, they also believe schools must be much more: The emphasis on reading and math test scores is causing other parts of the curriculum (social studies, science, arts) to be squeezed out. Testing is taking too much time, and the hyper-focus on it is damaging school culture. School environment and culture matter too—very much. They want their schools to have lively and engaging classes, more writing, a concern with building citizenship and a taste for skeptical, critical thinking, as well as a school culture that is welcoming, nurturing, safe, orderly, and challenging.

New law gives states/DC more flexibility in judging school quality

Since No Child Left Behind went into effect in the early 2000’s, every state, including DC, was required to adopt a school evaluation system in which schools were rated and held accountable based on the proportion of students who reached the “Proficient” level on math and reading tests.
Bipartisan dissatisfaction with NCLB, including increasing dismay with over-testing, led Congress to replace NCLB with the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) at the end of 2015. The law gives states more latitude to determine how they will hold their schools accountable. Here are a few examples of the new law’s flexibility:

1. The new law allows states to rate schools on more than just reading and math test scores.
In the words of John King, Obama’s Secretary of Education,
“Done well and thoughtfully, assessments provide vital information… and identify the gaps that must be addressed to ensure equity. But in some places, an exclusive emphasis on the tested subjects drove a narrowing of what was taught and learned; worse, test prep and narrowly defined “time on task” sometimes came to replace a diversity of classes.”
“The good news here is that, with the passage of Every Student Succeeds Act… the opportunity to widen how we understand educational excellence is suddenly ripe.”

2. The new law requires states to include a non-test measure of school quality, for example of “school climate”
Test scores provide extremely important information about how much students know. But, whether they’re learning–and at what rate–depends on other factors, including what’s known as school “culture” or climate. A recent research review of many school climate studies indicates that schools with a positive climate “have the potential to narrow achievement gaps among students of different SES backgrounds and between students with stronger and weaker academic abilities.”
In cities like DC, struggling with terrible achievement gaps, putting some focus on school climate makes huge sense–and the law supports that direction. Plus, a climate measurement can signal schools that while achievement is paramount, a positive school culture promotes achievement–and is well worth investing in for its own sake.

3. The new law allows emphasis on student “growth” over “proficiency.”
Yup. It’s wonky. But, as former comedian Sen. Al Franken told Ed. Sec Designate Betsy DeVos during her confirmation hearing, it’s super important! The upside of DeVos’s befuddlement is the outpouring from researchers and writers on the meaning and importance of emphasizing growth when ranking schools.
Urban Institute researcher Matt Chingos wrote that whether a student reaches a proficiency threshold or not reflects not just what students learn a school “but also the knowledge they brought when they enrolled,” and that growth measures are helpful in “correcting for that by examining the progress students make while enrolled at a given school.”
Writing for The Root, educator Kelly Wickham Hurst explained that when a school suddenly enrolls many new students with extremely low reading levels (in Hurst’s example, previously home-schooled students), scores fall. “Schools get punished in the proficiency model, and that’s no accident,” she says, arguing that charters/private schools are helped when proficiency-based scores depict regular schools as failures.
Interestingly, though, the most scathing indictment of overusing proficiency scores comes from Matt Baum, on the website of T74, a strong advocate of school choice:
“The school could be doing a great job helping kids improve, but if they start out at a very low level, that might not show up on proficiency measures. Put simply, proficiency rewards schools for the students they take in, but not necessarily for how they teach students once they’re there.”

“[J]udging schools based on a measure that is largely outside of their control, as proficiency would do, can lead to a host of negative consequences.”
” Most simply, the wrong schools may receive accolades or sanctions. If a school with low proficiency but high growth gets closed down for allegedly poor performance, students are unlikely to benefit.”
“Since proficiency scores are highly correlated with poverty, using them to rate schools inevitably means that low-income schools will, by and large, get the worst scores. This may make such schools less desirable places to work, since they face stigma and accountability pressure, potentially driving away good teachers from the schools that need them most.
That’s what the law allows. Now it’s up to us.

Each state (including DC) must come up with its own system of evaluating schools. Under DC law, the initial proposal for how schools should be rated is developed and issued by OSSE. That proposal then stands for approval or rejection by the State Board of Education. OSSE issued an initial draft in October, which the SBOE strongly critiqued. It presented a more detailed proposal to the SBOE in January.
In both drafts, 80% of the rating is based on reading and math test scores, proficiency gets as much weight as growth (in high school, growth doesn’t count at all), and the only measurements of school environment included are attendance and re-enrollment.

Ward meetings, public comments: Coming in February.

OSSE will produce a new draft on January 31. The public will have 33 days to comment on it. In addition, OSSE and SBOE will host community meetings in every ward to give the public an opportunity to react and make suggestions. OSSE will then prepare a final draft, which is scheduled for an up or down vote by the State Board of Education.
Please come to these meetings and make your views known to the Superintendent and the State Board of Education. The dates for these meetings are being finalized. I will send out the dates when I learn them.

Ward3-Wilson Feeder School Education Network meetings

***Tues, Jan. 31
Georgetown Library.
with State Education Superintendent Hanseul Kang
Bring your questions about PARCC testing, how DC will assess schools under the new federal accountability law, DC-TAG, and other issues handled by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE).

**Wed, Feb 23,
6:45 PM
Tenley Library
with Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh.
The focus of the meeting will be to talk about the overcrowding and lack of space in the W3/Wilson Feeder schools and possible solutions.


Old Hardy School– As many of you know, there was a City Council vote to “surplus” the old Hardy school building on Foxhall Rd. Many of us have argued that it’s premature to surplus the building before making sure that there is a viable plan to provide needed space for the area’s overcrowded schools, now and into the future.
As it turns out, the Mayor won’t sign any legislation to move it forward until there is time for public input. Meanwhile, Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh will be meeting soon with the Ward 3-Wilson Feeder Education Network to discuss the area’s school capacity needs so they can be addressed as the Old Hardy issue moves forward.

Fillmore Arts Center– Once again, it was announced that the Fillmore Arts Center would be closed down. This action would have ended forever an innovative, first-class arts education program that DCPS has invested in and built up over the years. It would also have subjected students at a number of schools, including Key and Stoddert, to a much diminished arts program, given that their schools don’t have space for a dedicated art room.
Thanks to the mayor and DCPS for keeping it open. And, please, please, figure out how it can continue to serve the nearby schools that need it AND students around the city whose arts education would be greatly enhanced through its excellent programming. We know you’re working hard on it. Let’s not face this same threat next year.
Educators: Network with colleagues from other sectors. Teacher Jared Winston from Sheridan School, fresh from an invigorating professional discussion with other independent school teachers, is interested in creating a broader network, connecting teachers across the private, DCPS, and charter sectors. For more info and contact info, link here.

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