A Better Way to Rate Schools?

A message from Ward 6 School Board member, Joe Weedon, about upcoming decisions on how DC rates schools — and how to make your voice heard on Nov. 16

Currently, schools are rated almost entirely on reading and math test scores–and almost entirely on the proportion of students who are “proficient,” regardless of how much academic progress students in the school did or didn’t make.

This approach has led to many complaints: too much focus on tests and test prep; not enough attention to other subjects;  pressure on schools to focus on teaching students who are close to the proficient cusp instead of kids who score substantially higher or lower; a disincentive for schools to enroll challenging students, whose test scores typically grow more slowly; and, not enough attention to the non-academic aspects of education, including providing a nurturing, safe, challenging, engaging environment.

Thanks to the new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, passed last year, DC has the chance to greatly revise the basis on which we evaluate school quality. The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and the State Board of Education (SBOE) have been meeting with members of the community since the spring to hear ideas for fixing the current system.  OSSE produced a “straw man” draft, meant to elicit comment. The SBOE responded with its concerns about what was and wasn’t in the draft.

The discussion now moves to a larger, public stage: the next SBOE meeting, Nov 16 at 5:30. While any member of the public can testify on any issue they want, the three main subjects up for discussion that night are:

  • The Weight of Test Scores:  Our current system overwhelmingly emphasizes test results. We are hearing that this focus on testing has harmful effects on our schools. The OSSE discussion draft suggests a new total test weight of 80%; the SBOE response memo suggests it should be much lower. We need to hear from parents, students, educators, and organizations about how the current testing weight has affected their schools and what they think the new weight should be.
  • The Weight of Growth in Relation to Proficiency:  Rather than holding schools accountable almost entirely for whether their students reach specific proficiency levels, ESSA offers DC the opportunity to credit schools for the progress students achieve each year, meaning that if students enter the year well below proficiency but make above average strides, the school will be credited for that growth–not penalized because the student hasn’t yet reached proficient. We need to hear from parents, students and organizations on what they believe the appropriate balance is between rating schools based on the proportion of students who meet proficiency thresholds and the actual academic progress the students have made.
  • Open, Welcoming Spirit and Other Qualitative Indicators of Quality: In addition to test scores, the SBOE believes that part of a school’s rating should be based on such qualitative factors as whether all students, teachers and parents feel welcome in their schools and such factors as school discipline, attendance, bullying, parent engagement, teacher turnover, student reenrollment, etc. Data for ratings could be drawn from surveys of parents, teachers, and students and from existing data. We need to hear from parents, students and organizations on what factors we should be looking at when assessing our schools.

Please consider testifying before the Board on these or related questions. 

Wed. Nov 16, 5:30 PM
441 4th St NW (at Judiciary Square)

You must sign up by 5 pm, Tuesday Nov 15. Sign up by emailing sboe@dc.gov. Please circulate this information to all interested schools, parents, educators, organizations.

Or, if you can’t attend the hearing, send written statements to me at joe@joeweedonstateboardofed.com and we will make sure your input gets to OSSE. 

Thank you,
Joe Weedon

2 thoughts on “A Better Way to Rate Schools?

  1. Glad to see this post of the whole SBOE view of the accountability plan to date. One of things several people said at a recent Ward 7 SBOE candidate forum is that the Board is not so good at informing citizens about its work, and I agree. This should help–at least on this issue.


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