Caryn Ernst Testimony – OSSE Performance Oversight – Feb 14, 2017

Thank you for holding this hearing and for the opportunity to weigh in on OSSE’s work to develop new school accountability measures under ESSA. OSSE has an important opportunity to shape a stronger accountability and school support system through the new federal ESSA law that will drive what our students learn and how and where they are taught for the next ten years.

OSSE’s current proposal, which keeps test scores at 80% of a school’s rating will repeat many of the same failures and negative impacts of NCLB, which over the last ten years did nothing to close the achievement gap and arguably has led to greater segregation of our schools and a narrowing of our children’s academic opportunities.  

I urge OSSE to not rush into a final plan by April 3rd, and instead to wait until the second submission window in September, and I urge OSSE to use ESSA’s flexibility to create school “Dashboards” rather than “Ratings.”

Submit Accountability Proposal in September, not April

Three critical reasons to submit proposal in September:

  1.  Take the time to gain maximum engagement from parents, educators and other stakeholders. Parents are just beginning to understand the draft plan and its impact and want more opportunity to discuss and give input to the plan. This plan is complicated and there needs to be robust discussion of its potential impacts.
  2. Take the time to work with a variety of experts on various aspects of the plan from what is best for English language learners (ELs) and students with disabilities to what are the best indicators of school success in addition to testing that are valid, reliable and can be disaggregated and differentiated.
  3. Give Chancellor Wilson an authentic opportunity to weigh in. It is unreasonable that Chancellor Wilson will not have a significant hand in shaping the new plan that he will be responsible for implementing for 49,000 students. We parents will hold him accountable for DCPS’s success. He deserves the chance to have a say in how it will be judged. OSSE released its draft plan just as the Chancellor came on board and it will be final just two months later. Chancellor Wilson needs time to understand and hear from DCPS’s 109 school leaders and educators, 8 ward education councils, numerous nonprofit partners, and tens of thousands of parents.

It is unconscionable that OSSE drafted this plan in the Chancellor’s absence and then is aiming to finish it within the first two months of his tenure. DC charter school leaders have had time to engage their stakeholders, gather experts and weigh in with OSSE since ESSA was signed in December of 2015 – over a year ago. To argue that our new DCPS Chancellor has to make the same commitments to a new system in only two months is wrong.

Use ESSA Flexibility to Create School “Dashboard” rather than “Rating”  

The ESSA legislation gives states the flexibility to create a school Dashboard, instead of, or in addition to, a school Rating. A Dashboard would present a few categories of data on each school, such as growth, proficiency, reenrollment and graduation rates, without trying to combine those categories into a final “Score” or “Rating” for each school.  

When high level data is combined to create a single rating, it obfuscates the real data behind a made up number that reflects more the percentage weight given to each data point, rather than the value of the data itself.  

The types of data collected and shared publicly under ESSA guidelines is important to guide school improvement efforts and to inform parents’ school choices. When data is combined into a final score it becomes almost meaningless for both of these purposes.  

If there is a legislative requirement to combine them into a final score, that score should only be used for federal legislative purposes, while the Dashboard of data should be used to share data with the public about school quality.

Robust, verifiable and reliable data that’s made publicly available for ALL schools on a wide-range of school performance measures would give parents, teachers, students and school leaders the shared data they need to collaborate effectively on school improvement.

The types of data that needs to be collected and made publicly available under ESSA, includes:

  1. Robust school climate assessments that provide actionable data and are administered to students, teachers and parents, like the Cal State Assessment Instrument.
  2. Teacher turnover rates and percent of teachers considered highly effective.
  3. Percent of students that leave mid-year, as well as reenrollment rates for the school.
  4. Attendance rates for both students and teachers.
  5. Number of expulsions and suspensions.
  6. Measures that would indicate the quality of science and social studies instruction, particularly in middle and high school, and
  7. List of electives and after school activities to which all students have access.

Most schools are already tracking this information in some way, it just isn’t tracked consistently or reliably and the data isn’t shared publicly. 

Taking a Dashboard approach to public education data would take the politics out of discussion of what data point has more or less meaning, and would enable an honest look at the quality and content of the education offered at ALL schools in DC.  


OSSE Performance Oversight

Every Student Succeeds Act – School Accountability Measures

February 14, 2017

Testimony by Caryn Ernst 

Parent at School Without Walls and Capitol Hill Cluster School


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