Creating an ESSA Accountability Plan Without Re-Creating Another NCLB

New York State is making every attempt to include whomever wants to be involved in the creation of the Every State Succeeds Act (ESSA) accountability plan. A series of facilitated engagement sessions across the state, an online survey and an all-day retreat of the entire board facilitated by Linda Darling-Hammond, Learning Policy Institute and Scott Marion, Center for Assessment.

Almost seven hours of discussion, a working lunch, with another session next Tuesday after the scheduled regents meeting.

Read a couple of hundred pages of supporting documents here.

Read my live-time tweets from the meeting at #edinthepple

Under the new law, ESSA, each state must construct an accountability plan, which means, within the confines of the law, select indicators, including but not limited to standardized test scores that will identify the lowest 5% of schools.

An overriding question: proficiency (only giving credit for a fixed point, a score) versus growth (progress for last year to this year) – how do combine the two concepts?

The entire board wants to include equity, how do you define and measure equity?

How many indicators do you want to identify? Remember, you must include standardized test scores.

Let’s get deeper into the weeds, should you weight the indicators?  Scott Marion, one of the facilitators gave examples of weighted indicators, the many paths all lead to identifying the bottom 5% in the state.

A number of the regents were getting edgy, Regent Johnson asked: Are we recreating NCLB?

The regents questions increased:

How do you account for schools/districts that have substantially differing access to supports due to lack of dollars and geographic constraints?  How do you “compare” schools with large percentages of ELL and Special Education with schools with much smaller percentages? Poverty really, really matters: how do we account for poverty in a plan? Should you reward schools with large percentages of kids who graduate with higher level diplomas?  If so, are we rewarding parental income and education rather than school achievement?

When the dust settles we’re going to have the same number of  lowest performing schools: will we be identifying schools with the same characteristics?  Schools in the highest poverty zip codes in the state?.

(Take a look at Center for NYC Affairs A Better Picture of Poverty report).

Once we identify the schools, how do we report the results?  letter grades? number grades? other options? That “scarlet letter” problem: shame and punish or identify, assist and improve?

The identified lowest 5% schools must use “evidence-based” solutions, the term “evidence-based” is defined in detail in the law. Should the state have an “approved list” of interventions?  Should schools pick off the approved list or have discretion as long as they are evidence-based?

As we discussed the issue of interventions the state staffer leading the discussion seemed to be recreating the same state interventions we are currently utilizing. Basically the state sends a outside contracted assessor into a school with a checklist, using a state rubric.

A SED staffer asked:

Should teachers new to 5% schools have to be rated “effective” or “highly effective” in their previous schools?  The problem is staff retention, “effective” and “highly effective” teachers tend to leave and move to more successful schools and the 5% schools are staffed with newer teachers. There was no discussion of teacher retention and the high teacher turnover rate in the lowest ranked schools.

Should principals have had successful experience in leading similar schools? Should they receive special training? Sounds like the state might want to move towards a Principal’s Academy approach, not successful in New York City.

To what extent should the state interventions be proscribed (top-down) or created and owned by the school? Top-down approaches only work with school district leadership that is skilled, in most places authoritarian leadership is resented in the trenches.

How do you differentiate between schools in NYC, the “big four” (Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo and Yonkers), small. rural schools/districts?

The ominous sword hanging over the process is not ESSA, its the New York State Receivership Law. For schools that continue to stumble, by which I mean fail to get off the 5% list, or, get off and fall back on the school faces closing, combining with another school or receivership.  In 2015 the governor aggressively pushed the concept.  I wrote about receivership: click to read:  “Cuomo. ‘Fifty Shades of Gray’ and Receivership: Whipping School Communities Does Not Create More Effective Schools, Working Together Really Does Work,” and “Receivership: A Magic Bullet for Struggling Schools or Another Chimera: Castor Oil or Ambrosia.”

To be clear, there was no mention of receivership at the plenary session, in the small group meeting a State Education staffer responding to the dilemma of “on, off and on” the 5% list indicated the next step was receivership.

At the end of the day the commissioner mentioned the section of the law that allows for up to seven states to apply for pilot status, to create assessment tools other than standardized tests. The feds have not issued an application, and may not; however, the commissioner and the regents expressed considerable interest. In the hundreds of pages of materials one was a brief description of alternative assessments (Take a look here)

Back on Tuesday afternoon for the continuation of the discussion, a draft plan at the May board meeting, public comments, approval by governor, August submission to the feds.

Kudos to the commissioner, the chancellor and the board members active participation along a winding and complex path. To quote the president, “This is complicated.”

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One response to “Creating an ESSA Accountability Plan Without Re-Creating Another NCLB

  1. The attachment on performance assessment alternatives from Linda Darling-Hammond and Scott Marion is informative in presenting the Regents with options. However, in my reading there may be an even less restrictive option, explained in a FairTest report and related fact sheet, at http://www.fairtest.org/assessment-matters-constructing-model-state-system.
    Essentially, states can use teacher-designed/controlled, student-focused, classroom based (that is not external-test-based) evidence of student learning to determine each student’s level of proficiency (as ESSA requires be done). There are various ways to then ensure comparability across the state, as ESSA also requires. My read of the Darling-Hammond option suggestion of using portfolios is that these could be teacher-defined. We could extend ‘portfolio’ to include the performance-based assessment task approach used in the New York Performance Standards Consortium. By expanding on the portfolio approach and maximizing allowable flexibility, schools can ensure assessment of a full and rich curriculum with tools and procedures that enhance deep learning and promote greater student engagement (due to their enhanced control, which is related to improved outcomes). For reasons explained in our report, this would be far preferable to relying primarily on centrally (state) determined tasks.
    Monty Neill, FairTest

    Like

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