IN ITS REVAMP of the No Child Left Behind education law, Congress gave states more flexibility in designing accountability systems to measure school performance. There is no question that the much-maligned old law was far too rigid. But there is a danger of weakening measures to the point of making them meaningless. That fortunately doesn’t seem to be the aim in the District, where officials have developed a proposal that places a muscular emphasis on academic outcomes.
The D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education released a draft plan in January and is now accepting public comments in the hope of getting local and federal approval for the accountability system to go online in the fall of 2018. Under the plan, schools would be rated from one star (lowest) to five stars (highest), based on multiple measures. Student performance would be a key component, with 80 percent of the rating for elementary and middle schools tied to annual tests. Proficiency and growth would be given equal weight. Other factors include attendance, re-enrollment and, for high schools, graduation rates and Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate participation and performance.
A great advantage of the proposal is that it would be a rigorous system applied to both public charter and traditional schools. The D.C. Public Charter School Board currently has a system accessible on its website in which annual reports rank charters into performance tiers. But there is no similar ranking of traditional schools. That makes it difficult to compare the strengths and weaknesses of the city’s schools, denying parents the information they need in making educational decisions for their children.
Common reporting, as State Superintendent Hanseul Kang wrote in a letter to the public , also allows officials to learn from successful schools. Those insights can help struggling schools improve and makes collaboration between charters and the school system easier.
The plan must be approved by the D.C. State Board of Education before being forwarded to the U.S. Education Department. Pushback has already developed, with the Washington Teachers’ Union (predictably) complaining that too much emphasis is being placed on test scores. No doubt there may be tweaks needed to the plan, but the board must stand firm on the principle that the best — and most accurate — way to hold schools accountable for student learning is to measure what students have actually learned.
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