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Miles to Go Before Schools are Measured Comprehensively

Madison teacher Paul

Madison teacher Paul Coppola said that it’s important to integrate qualitative as well as quantitative indicators into a school accountability system.

Since the dawn of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001, federal law has required states to use annual standardized tests to measure schools. This narrow focus on standardized test scores finally seems to be loosening its stranglehold as a new pilot program in New Hampshire was recently approved by the U.S. Department of Education. It shows promise for a more comprehensive way of looking at schools.

The pilot program, known as the Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE), replaces state standardized tests with locally designed assessments in four New Hampshire school districts. Students can demonstrate learning by applying their knowledge in multiple steps and tasks.

Instead of annual SBAC exams, students in the pilot districts will be tested only once in elementary school, once in middle school, and again in eleventh grade. Read more about the New Hampshire pilot program fromThe Christian Science Monitor.

Here in Connecticut, the State Department of Education (SDE) is taking another look at school accountability and plans to modify accountability for federal reporting purposes. The SDE approach is nothing like the pilot program in New Hampshire, but the public will be able to take a look at the new system soon when it’s posted online.

Instead of relying solely on standardized test scores and graduation rates, the new proposed state accountability system would include multiple measures such as attendance/chronic absenteeism, college and career readiness, and postsecondary entrance. It would also use subject specific index scores so schools can clearly see how students perform on math, reading, and science tests — unlike the current system that merely averages standardized test scores across all subjects.

Representatives from the SDE shared the proposed accountability system with classroom educators at a meeting at CEA yesterday. The new system will be formally submitted for federal approval as part of Connecticut’s NCLB waiver renewal application at the end of the month.

Although the intent of the new accountability system is to include student growth on standardized tests from year to year as well as standardized test scores, the SDE apparently will not have sufficient data to demonstrate growth until at least the end of 2016 — that’s if all goes as planned. In the interim, student standardized test scores will continue to make up the lion’s share of schools’ ratings.

“It’s still frustrating that we can’t have timely, actionable data,” said East Hartford educator Marcia Ferreira. Schools and students will not receive SBAC scores until after school is out for the summer, meaning there is no way for teachers to use the test results to help their students improve.

Renée Savoie and Ajit Gopalakrishnan from the State Department of Education presented the state's new proposed school accountability system to Connecticut teachers.

Renée Savoie and Ajit Gopalakrishnan from the State Department of Education presented the state’s new proposed school accountability system to Connecticut teachers.

CEA leaders told SDE officials that incorporating student growth into an accountability system is imperative. They don’t think that the yearly spring administration of SBAC, which represents only one snapshot in time, is adequate. It is why CEA is advocating replacing SBAC with progress monitoring tests, so that student growth can be captured at multiple points during the school year.

Ajit Gopalakrishnan, bureau chief for the SDE’s Performance Office, said, “It’s been test scores, test scores… forever. We are laying the foundation for a multiple measure system, and we have to start with the data we already have. This is not perfect, but we have to start somewhere. It’s not totally a science. It’s an art — a matter of which buttons do you want to push. ” He added that he and his colleagues looked at scalability, district resources, and equity as they evaluated indicators to include in the new system.

Even though the new accountability system does include some new indicators, once growth is available to be factored in, test scores and growth in test scores will make up more than 75% of middle and elementary schools’ ratings.

Madison teacher Paul Coppola said that the new accountability system is moving in the right direction by relying less on a single test score but needs to go further and “give fidelity to educating the whole student.” He said that Madison has conducted focus groups with community members and found that residents value factors including schools’ ability to cultivate grit and resilience in students.

Coppola added that it is very important for state decision makers to integrate qualitative as well as quantitative indicators into an accountability system as Madison has done. Unfortunately, the state of Connecticut is still very far from that kind of system.

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