Suzanne Wells Testimony – OSSE Performance Oversight – Feb 14, 2017

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today at the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) Performance Oversight Hearing. I am going to focus my remarks on the important work OSSE is doing to develop school accountability measures under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA or the Act). The Act provides us a welcomed opportunity to make meaningful changes in how school quality is accessed, and we owe it to our students, teachers and school administrators to make thoughtful changes. 

In June, representatives from the State Board of Education came to the monthly meeting of the Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization (CHPSPO). At that meeting, parents shared their ideas on what they think makes a great school. You may be surprised, but not a single parent at the meeting said that high test scores made a great school. In fact, parents expressed concern that their children are being tested too much, and it comes at the expense of a well-rounded, academically challenging educational experience. Parents wanted to see testing used by teachers to assess students so the teacher could better target the areas where a student needed to improve rather than testing done primarily for the purpose of evaluating an entire school.
When parents were asked what made a great school, they spoke to issues that relate to the school climate. Is there trust between the principal and the teachers? Do students feel welcomed and excited about their school? Are the parents encouraged to be involved with the school? Does the school offer a challenging curriculum beyond English language arts and math? Does it have rich programs in arts, music, science, history, foreign language, physical education, and library studies? Does the school do a good job of creating a social/emotional climate that promotes conflict resolution, bullying prevention, and social/emotional learning? And, how does the school work to support its most vulnerable students; the students who are homeless, those whose parents are getting divorced, those whose parents are incarcerated or have substance abuse problems?

There are three things I want to encourage OSSE to consider as it develops its final plan for measuring school accountability: 1) the weight allocated to testing, 2) the consideration of school climate measures; and 3) the date OSSE submits its school accountability plan to the Department of Education.   

ESSA requires that the majority of the weight for school accountability be allocated to test scores. OSSE’s current proposal would give 80% of the weight to testing; 40% to the test scores, and 40% to growth in test scores. Devoting such a large percentage to test scores is concerning for several reasons. First, think back to when you were in school. Most often a grade in an individual class was determined based on the homework you completed, the written assignments, class participation, a mid-term exam, and a final exam. Maybe your final exam accounted for 40% of your grade, but rarely was the final exam 80% of your final grade. Why would we want to make test scores 80% of our school accountability measure? Second, the PARCC test scores are based on English and math. Why would we choose to ignore everything else that is taught in school throughout the year, for example, social studies and science?  

It is hard to underestimate the importance of school climate as it relates to student learning. Students learn a lot more when they attend school every day, and feel safe and welcomed at the school. Schools where teachers collaborate with each other, and where there is low teacher turnover can provide better instruction for their students. Schools where principals gather data to understand the school’s strengths and weaknesses in order to continually improve a school are more likely to be successful. School climate surveys exist which can be used to gather meaningful data to both hold schools accountable, and also to continual improve a school. Because the new school accountability measures will not go into effect until the 2018-2019 school year, there is time to pilot test the use of school climate surveys as an instrument to both gather information on school accountability and to develop actionable items that can be used to improve individual school performance.

ESSA allows for school accountability plans to be submitted in either April or September of 2017. Since the school accountability plans won’t go into effect next year, but rather in the 2018-2019 school year, there is no reason for OSSE to rush submission of its school accountability plan. I recommend the school accountability plan be submitted in September of 2017. This will allow OSSE time to thoughtfully evaluate the substantive comments it has received on the school accountability measures. It will also give the new DCPS Chancellor, Antwan Wilson, time to weigh in on the school accountability measures and how they will work to support his efforts to close the achievement gap.

In closing, I’d like to provide some specific suggestions for OSSE to consider before it submits its plan to measure school accountability. I encourage OSSE to:

  • Place the lowest weight allowed by the Every Student Succeeds Act on test scores while allowing student growth to play a large role in the weighting of test scores, and seek to find ways to express accountability in subject areas beyond English and math;
  • Pilot test a school climate survey instrument that will allows schools to gather actionable data on improving the school; and submit the school accountability measures in September 2017.



Suzanne Wells

Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization (CHPSPO)

before the 

Education Committee

Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE)

Performance Oversight Hearing

February 14, 2016


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