a whole new law

Coalition recommends laser focus on academics in state’s accountability system

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede

A new coalition is urging the state to keep hard academic indicators front and center when judging schools — a counterbalance to some options state officials have been exploring.

Under a new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, states have more flexibility to define what makes a school effective. So far, under the state’s draft guiding principles, officials appear eager to explore new options for rating schools, and committed to “multiple measures of progress and growth.”

But a policy brief released Tuesday by Education Trust and co-signed by a dozen advocacy groups, strikes a different tone. Its first principle — “make the main thing the main thing” — implores state officials to keep their eye on academic achievement and look at a “limited” number of other indicators.

“There have been a lot of conversations about standards and about assessments and about how we measure the effectiveness of schools,” said Ian Rosenblum, the founding executive director of EdTrust-NY. “We believe that if we don’t establish strong expectations for all students … then we’re not going to be able to improve equity and opportunity to students.”

This brief is part of a larger battle over the direction of state education policy. Though state officials have signaled a willingness to rethink policies that rely heavily on standardized test scores, groups like Education Trust caution there is danger in straying too far from current indicators.

Here are a few key areas of the report, which you can read here.

Do not adopt too many accountability indicators. The policy brief urges the state to use the “fewest possible” indicators and to “heavily weight” English and math proficiency. It offers some alternatives to academic indicators, such as chronic absenteeism or student suspensions, but emphasizes standard academics over “multiple measures.”

Do not replace overall school ratings with a “dashboard.” The policy brief argues that each school should have one overall rating, even if it is used in addition to a set of other measures to judge schools. The recommendation comes one week after the state’s Board of Regents listened to a presentation from Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond, who expressed support for a “dashboard” approach to rating schools, closer to New York City’s current system, which breaks ratings down into components.

Ensure that academic measures together represent 75 percent of each school’s rating. That percentage is key to making sure the state remembers “what matters most” when evaluating students, the report says. In its draft guiding principles, the state did not specify how much academic indicators might be weighted in each school’s rating, though all states are required to give academic factors the most weight under the law.

Include college and career readiness as a new indicator of school quality or student success. The report suggests judging schools based on enrollment and success in advanced classes. That’s not far from the state’s guiding principles, which also reference having access to advanced classes, and possibly rating schools based on how students succeed in postsecondary education.

Officials are still in the process of putting together a set of recommendations. “These are draft guiding principles which we have been seeking comment on; they are not yet official Board of Regents policy,” a said a State Education Department spokesperson in an email. He added that “all academic subjects” would be part of the accountability system, along with “non-academic measures of school quality and student success.”

The state has convened a think tank with dozens of organizations to get input from education leaders across the state. Rosenblum said his coalition intentionally released its report before any state measures were finalized.

We “wanted to do it before the Regents put out their initial framework because we wanted to provide input in the process,” Rosenblum said. “I think it’s too early to know for sure where the state is heading.”

breaking

Double whammy: Indiana schools could see two A-F grades in 2018

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students work on an assignment at Decatur Central High School. (File Photo)

Indiana schools could get two A-F grades in 2018 — one official grade based on state requirements, and a separate calculation based on the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

The proposal comes as changes in graduation rate calculations and dual credit teacher training have complicated the state’s plan to comply with the new law, which went into effect this school year.

There was an opportunity to make adjustments when the plan was introduced in June, but Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indiana education officials endorsed it with few major changes. It’s unclear why separate state and federal grades weren’t considered earlier.

The proposal highlights the pressure Indiana and other states face to quickly adjust to ESSA and changing expectations from Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education. A number of regulations were either thrown out when she came into office or could not be finished in time by the Obama Administration. Indiana, too, saw a dramatic election that brought in a new schools chief, governor and other key education policymakers.

The idea to create dual standards was revealed tonight when Ken Folks, chief of governmental affairs for the Indiana Department of Education, spoke with educators and community members at Noblesville East Middle School.

Adam Baker, state department of education spokesman, said officials need more time to figure out how to meet the federal rules for graduation rate and new regional rules regarding dual credit teaching. Both factor heavily into high school A-F grades, and the changes could result in lower grades for many schools.

“We are trying to support schools and trying to do what’s best to make this transition a lot smoother,” Baker said.

Read: Educators to state officials: ‘Indiana needs just one diploma’

Here’s how it might look:

About a year from now, after students take the spring 2018 ISTEP test, schools will get a letter grade from the state that won’t encompass any of the changes proposed in Indiana’s ESSA plan.

The state grade would determine where a school falls on the timeline for state intervention — public schools, for example, can only have four consecutive years of F grades before takeover or other serious improvement plans are on the table.

But nothing about the ESSA rules will change or pause. Unlike in 2016, federal officials have no plans to give states a reprieve from accountability sanctions. Every school will still receive a percentage calculation based on federal guidelines using the same 100-point scale that state letter grades are based on, where 90 percent is an A, 80 is percent a B, and so on.

The federal calculation would count under rules for identifying struggling schools and those that govern Title I funding. For example, any high school where the four-year federal graduation rate is lower than 67 percent would be considered under “comprehensive support” from the state.

Conversations with the governor’s office and the state board around the specifics of the state/federal split are still happening, Baker said, and the dual system would only be for 2018.

Grades based on 2017 ISTEP tests that are set to come out next month, which schools have already seen, are not part of this change.

This idea was floated a month ago at a state board of education work session that was held to build consensus around the state’s ESSA plan. Board members asked state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick and her staff why there couldn’t just be two grades next year.

At the time, Lee Ann Kwiatkowski, McCormick’s chief of staff, told board members that in the past, Indiana did operate two accountability systems, one for state and one for federal.

“The reason Indiana moved from two accountability systems to one was because it was confusing and caused chaos,” she said. “We would have schools that could look very different in the two systems.”

But as the ESSA plan’s due date rapidly approached and diploma and dual credit situations remained in limbo, Baker said the department changed its mind. Keeping the state’s grading system consistent, even if it meant a separate federal piece, ended up making more sense than a series of state grades with big fluctuations.

“The extra time wasn’t like, ‘OK, let’s give ourselves a fifth quarter,” Baker said. “It was more or less like, this is coming down the pipeline — what can we do (for schools)? Our hope is that things will change.”

See all of Chalkbeat Indiana’s ESSA coverage here.

the race is on

Stand for Children chooses not to endorse in northeast Denver school board race

DENVER, CO - March 16: A Denver Public Schools emblem and sign on the Evie Garrett Dennis Campus that houses five separate schools with 1,600 students in Pre-K through 12th grade in Northeast Denver, Colorado on March 16, 2016. (Photo by Katie Wood/The Denver Post)

Stand for Children Colorado on Tuesday announced its candidate endorsements for this fall’s Denver school board races — and one notable non-endorsement.

The pro-education reform group chose not to endorse a candidate in the three-person race in District 4, which encompasses a diverse mix of northeast Denver neighborhoods. The group said both incumbent Rachele Espiritu and challenger Jennifer Bacon had surpassed the group’s “threshold for endorsement,” and that “Denver’s kids would be well served by either candidate.”  

Recent Manual High School graduate Tay Anderson is also vying for the seat.

With four of seven seats in play, this fall’s election could swing the balance of a school board that unanimously backs the school district’s education reform efforts.

Stand is a significant player in Denver school board elections. It donates money to candidates and helps marshal resources on the ground, including door-to-door canvassing.

Kate Dando Doran, a spokeswoman for Stand for Children Colorado, said in an email the group will not contribute financially to candidates in District 4. She said that families Stand works with in southwest Denver are supporting former teacher Angela Cobián’s campaign in that part of the city, and that Stand would focus its energy and resources there, too.  

Cobián has the support of incumbent Rosemary Rodriguez, who is not running again. Stand endorsed Cobián in her race against parent Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, who has teachers union backing.

Stand for Children’s other endorsements do not come as a surprise: incumbent Barbara O’Brien in the citywide at-large race that includes former Denver teacher Julie Bañuelos and parent Robert Speth; and incumbent Mike Johnson for District 3 in central-east Denver, who is facing English language development teacher Carrie A. Olson.

To be considered for Stand’s endorsement, candidates agree to answer a candidate questionnaire and to be interviewed by a committee of parents. Doran said O’Brien, Cobián, Johnson, Bacon and Espiritu went through the group’s process.

That Stand could not settle on an endorsement in District 4 adds to the drama in the three-person race. Opponents of the district’s reforms haven’t united on a pick, either. The Denver teachers union endorsed Bacon, a community organizer and former teacher. The advocacy group Our Denver, Our Schools and a progressive caucus of the teachers union are backing Anderson.