Parents will be able to compare all D.C. public schools, regular and charter, under a newly approved rating system that assigns each school in the nation’s capital one to five stars based on test scores, attendance and other measures.
But some skeptics say the rating formula is weighted too heavily on standardized test results and not enough on other criteria such as parent involvement or how safe students feel in school.
In a 6-to-3 vote, the D.C. State Board of Education approved the plan from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) on Wednesday evening.
The ratings plan could have a significant effect in a city with a robust market of traditional and charter options.
Like diners choosing restaurants, parents might consult the star ratings in an effort to learn which schools are serving students well and which are struggling. The system will give families a new tool to compare traditional schools and charter schools.
“We want families to know that no matter what school their children attend — public or public charter — schools will be held accountable based on a common framework, so they can make apples-to-apples comparisons as they make important decisions about the best school for their children’s needs,” said Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles in a statement.
The District and states are required to adopt a school accountability plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act, which Congress passed in 2015. With the board’s approval, the OSSE will now submit its plan to the Education Department by April. States have until September to submit their plans.
In Maryland, another debate is brewing over state ESSA plans. The Maryland Senate is considering a bill that would require the state’s education agency to essentially weigh academic and school quality indicators equally when evaluating school progress. That bill is favored by teachers and some administrators who want success determined by measures other than just test scores and academic achievement goals.
The Maryland House passed a similar bill, and if the Senate proposal goes through, the bills would have to be reconciled before the session ends three weeks from now. But the Maryland State Board of Education is opposed to the legislation, saying it would hinder the creation of a school accountability system that would allow parents to adequately gauge whether a school is succeeding or not.
The bulk of the proposed D.C. rating formula is based on results from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career exams, or PARCC, which are linked to Common Core standards. For elementary and middle schools, the plan takes into account how many students met or exceeded academic standards as well as how much progress students made compared with the previous school year.
For high schools, the rating system will consider only proficiency on PARCC exams. The OSSE said it is working on getting baseline data for academic growth for high schools and will eventually include it in the rating system.
Initially, the OSSE proposed that 80 percent of a school’s rating come from PARCC results. But board members and others said that was too high, so the OSSE lowered the weight to 70 percent.
Critics of the plan say putting too much emphasis on math and reading test scores will encourage schools to focus most of their resources on those subjects rather than offering a robust curriculum with foreign languages, social studies and science. They also wanted the ratings to include a parent and student school climate survey and track school suspensions.
Ruth Wattenberg was one of the board members who voted against the plan.
“As it is, it just provides a very narrow view of school quality, and it’s going to encourage schools to just focus on those very narrow issues, Wattenberg said.
Leaders of D.C. Public Schools and the D.C. Public Charter School Board said they favored the new rating system.
“We support the current plan, and we recognize that a strong accountability plan will always require changes as we learn more over the coming years,” said DCPS Chancellor Antwan Wilson.
In addition to PARCC results, the OSSE’s plan will also grade schools based on their attendance rates, re-enrollment rates and an “access and opportunities” measure to gauge “well-rounded experiences for students in engaging learning environments.” The OSSE said schools will be able to provide “flexible options for schools to highlight results in this area.”
Joe Heim contributed to this report.