D.C. charter board asked to reconsider preschool ranking plan

Some D.C. charter school leaders are asking the city’s public charter school board to reconsider a proposal to rank preschools based largely on their performance on varying math and reading tests.

In written comments to the board, several leaders questioned the validity of comparing schools based on different assessments and said the proposed evaluation tool would have unintended consequences.

“In creating a tiering system for schools, this framework creates high stakes for all of our schools, and these high stakes will have a negative impact on our children’s learning environment,” said Maquita Alexander, head of school for Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School.

The board’s proposed “Early Childhood Performance Management Framework” would extend a system that is already being used to measure the success of charter schools serving older students and sort them into tiers. It was designed to give parents a better understanding of how charter schools compare to each other and to provide a common yard stick to show how they are meeting the goal of preparing the city’s children for success later in school.

Five school leaders were among about 50 people who submitted comments to the board. Most of the respondents were parents who urged the board to give social and emotional learning more weight in any kind of evaluation tool. They expressed concerns that the framework would lead to a narrowing of the curriculum and an overly academic preschool environment that would not be developmentally appropriate for very young students.

“I do not care AT ALL how well [my daughter] is learning to read, or do math, at ages three and four. I want to know that she is being taught self awareness, sensitivity to others, social skills, self-management, and strong decision-making,” wrote one mother of a first grade student at Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School. “THESE are the skills that will allow her to be a good student once she reaches first grade.”

Literacy and math would account for 45 to 60 percent of a preschool’s total score in the proposed framework. A social and emotional assessment, weighted at 15 percent, would be optional. Measures of teacher quality and school attendance would also be included.

For kindergarten through second grade, math and reading performance would account for between 70 and 80 percent of a school’s rating, with an optional social and emotional component weighted at 10 percent.

The board is considering changes to the proposal based on the public comments, said charter board spokeswoman Theola Labbé-DeBose. The vote is scheduled for Sept 16 at the next charter school board meeting to be held at DC Scholars Public Charter School at 5601 East Capitol St. SE at 7:30 p.m. (The board has launched an initiative to host meetings in different parts of the city).

Scott Pearson, the executive director of the charter school board, responded to many parents directly in an e-mail in which he explained that the board has “vital role” to ensure that taxpayer-funded charter schools are high quality.

He explained that the framework would not impose new tests, but instead allow schools to choose from the more than two dozen assessments already in use.

And he emphasized that the framework “was developed in close collaboration with charter school leaders who broadly support this proposal.”

But some charter leaders challenged this assertion.

“While there is widespread support for public accountability and transparency in our public charter school sector, including its early childhood programs, there are a number of schools with concerns about elements of this framework and others concerned about the process by which the [public charter school board] developed this framework,” wrote Kristin Scotchmer, executive director of Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School.

Scotchmer, as well as officials from Washington Yu Ying, Elsie Whitlow Stokes, and Capitol City public charter schools questioned the validity of comparing schools based on different assessments.

“The assessments measure different skills and will show different data about a student’s academic performance,” said Linda Moore, founder and senior adviser of Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School. “Some assessments are multiple choice, much like the DCCAS, and others are observational, teacher-administered and scored. Some provide multi-layered evaluations of a child’s development over time, others provide a single snapshot of one skill.”

Some said that the proposed framework could create an incentive for schools to choose less challenging assessments that would yield high scores rather than tests that provide the most useful data for teachers to use in the classroom.

They also said the specifics of the framework could cause some school to introduce new tests for other reasons.

As a possible remedy, they suggested the board should publish performance data but not rank schools with it.

Some also requested that the board delay a vote until it can do more analysis on the results of a pilot of the framework that many schools participated in last year.

Moore and others expressed enthusiasm about the efforts to increase accountability but said the proposal still needs work. “We believe that the District of Columbia can be a national model for evaluation and public accountability,” Moore wrote.

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.
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