Imagine this: A district announces its plans to dramatically restructure a handful of neighborhood schools. Parents, left in the dark as to why, are shocked and distressed. The school their child has been attending since kindergarten will become unrecognizable, and all they have been told is that the school was deemed “low performing.” They believe in their school, but without more information, do not know the right questions to ask. Now, imagine the difference if the district had provided parents with regular access to data about their child’s school and engaged them in looking at the data to develop plans to address the school’s challenges together.
The Center for Education Policy (CEP) recently released a report that takes a first look at how many schools states identified as struggling, based on new requirements in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This is the first year states identified schools based on these requirements, and CEP’s report highlighted a wide variation across states: some states identified as few as 3 percent while others identified as many as 99 percent. How did they get here?
ESSA requires states and districts to rate schools based on multiple data points (measures) that collectively comprise a state’s “accountability system.” States must use academic and non-academic measures, and are given flexibility on the design and weight of the measures they include. Schools that are struggling the most are identified for a variety of reasons, including those that are lowest performing in the state or failing to address opportunity gaps. The state must develop interventions to support them.
How states choose to design and prioritize their measures matters because it holds schools accountable for successful education outcomes and identifies schools that need support to get to better outcomes. CEP’s report underscores the confusion that many parents feel when they are told their schools are low performing. Moving forward, states must be transparent about how the state’s accountability system is designed and how it leads to a school’s identification as “struggling,” so families can understand if states are measuring what matters to improve student outcomes.
The next step states should take is to ensure that a school’s identification is included on report cards. While ESSA requires states to include this information, state leaders should also go further to ensure parents have the context needed to understand what that label means. Teachers and leaders should be prepared to discuss the data leading to the identification with parents and plans to improve the school. This will empower parents to ask questions, such as: “what is the school doing to address high rates of chronic absenteeism” and “how is the school measuring student growth and how much does that factor into the school’s rating?” Armed with this information, parents can be partners in supporting student and school success.
This blog post is also available as a story on Medium.