So, Before YOUR Deadline of March 3, Take A Moment To Weigh In On ESSA

Yes, fellow DC citizens, we have a deadline: March 3.

That is when OSSE, our office of the state superintendent of education, plans to suspend public comment on a finalized version of DC’s implementation of the new federal accountability law for public schools, ESSA, which replaces No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

OSSE will send that finalized version to the state board of education, for their vote of approval, before an April deadline—even though OSSE really can wait until September, which would garner more public commentary and more chance for the new DCPS chancellor to weigh in (you know, that whole democracy bit about the public sector that educates half of the kids in DC having some say in its accountability measures?).

So where do we stand in all of this?

Public testimony in November before the state board of education showed overwhelming support for reducing the weight proposed by OSSE–80%–for test scores in determining a school’s virtues (or lack thereof) and using other measures, including climate surveys, to better describe how a school is doing.

OSSE has since held public meetings, and the council held a hearing on OSSE’s performance. At both, the public showed overwhelming support for reducing the 80% weight proposed by OSSE and using climate surveys (scroll down at that link for recent testimony). Some parents have even assembled talking points that include calling for schools to serve as pilots for a climate assessment survey.

(Those OSSE public meetings on ESSA continue, BTW–here is a schedule.)

But no matter: OSSE has persisted otherwise.

That is:

OSSE’s January 30 draft for ESSA in DC has no growth measures for high schools; no tracking of student cohorts, so one year’s 5th grade is compared to another’s, obscuring any growth (or lack) thereof; and no deep measures for growth or evaluation outside an 80% weight for PARCC scores for reading and math (which OSSE contends also measure other aspects of core learning, including social studies, since all is based on Common Core standards).

In other words, we in DC appear on the verge of No Child Left Behind 2.0.

Sadly, the OSSE draft (see here for a shorthand version) appears to ignore the reason ESSA was created, which was to acknowledge the failures of NCLB in ensuring schools have the tools they need to help the most disadvantaged students. Indeed, the achievement gap has only grown since NCLB, both nationally as well as locally, as well as created perverse incentives to teach to the test and have a test-based school culture.

Moreover, OSSE’s draft ignores Department of Education regulations for ESSA itself, showing that the weight of PARCC could be as low as 50% and that states have considerable flexibility in determining how they rate their schools.

In a city that has wildly embraced school choice like DC, why NOT implement climate surveys that would allow parents to better judge how our schools actually work for their students and staff outside of test scores?

It’s not like any of this is out of our control: the deputy mayor for education oversees both OSSE and the lottery, which features prominently placed test scores.

And in probably the only time in our entire lives as DC citizens, the federal government WANTS us to have more control over our DC affairs!

So, why NOT look at staff turnover; truancy; discipline issues as well as re-enrollment and attendance? Right now, re-enrollment and attendance get only a minimal amount of attention in OSSE’s draft. But with DC charter schools having high and disproportionate discipline rates, and DCPS taking in a greater share of highly mobile students (which has an effect on test scores), having more and deeper information on re-enrollment and attendance would put test scores into a much richer (and more realistic) context.

And why NOT have a weighting system such that schools with high growth but not high proficiency rates get benefits–instead of the punishment that would be inevitable in the current draft? Like NCLB, this draft version emphasizes penalties for anything other than proficiency, and we know from NCLB that this practice results in nothing good.

And why NOT reward schools for serving English language learners and special education students?

And gosh, we are a city that prides itself on wonkiness–so why NOT consider other tools besides PARCC for standardized testing? Other states have turned back from PARCC. We can too!

And let’s extend that wonkiness to the very feedback that OSSE is garnering from its public meetings:

What are people saying? And who is saying it? And why?

So many public meetings, so many questions!

But of course no one wants parents to be uninformed about their DC public schools. Right?

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