the new deal

New York to release first big look at how it might evaluate schools under the Every Student Succeeds Act

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Regents Luis Reyes and Beverly Ouderkirk go over some paperwork at July's Board of Regents meeting.

In the year and a half since the Every Student Succeeds Act was adopted as a replacement for No Child Left Behind, states have pondered how they might use it to measure school success. Here in New York, that vision will become much more clear on Monday when the state is expected to release its draft ESSA plan.

So far, during discussions about ESSA, the Regents have mentioned several big ideas: Boosting diversity, overhauling state assessments, and encouraging advanced curriculum, among others.

Now, finally, those big ideas will be spelled out in practical detail. The Regents may want to measure diversity, but how can they foster it in schools? There may be a desire to revamp state tests, but who will pay for the change?

Though Monday’s draft will not be the state’s final version, it will give the most up-to-date indication of where New York stands.

Here’s what we’ll be watching for:

Will it be a big departure from No Child Left Behind?

In many ways, that is the million dollar question.

While No Child Left Behind was widely criticized for setting rigid and unrealistic expectations, the new federal education law gives states more power to rate and help schools — provided they choose to take it.

The newfound power comes with caveats, most importantly that any rating system still has to focus on student achievement. But the Regents have talked passionately about moving beyond test scores as a way to judge progress and have expressed interest in experimenting with different assessments, such as ones that ask students to complete a series of projects.

“It’s really exciting,” Regent Judith Johnson said. “This is not going to look like No Child Left Behind, but it builds on it in terms of trying to get schools to perform at a higher level for kids.”

Will there be an A-F rating, a dashboard, or both?

When parents want to learn about their child’s school, they might turn to the State Education Department website. Should they be able to see one summative rating, like a letter grade, a dashboard full of different measures, or both? That question has so far gone unanswered in New York.

Letter grades can be controversial. In New York City, when former Mayor Michael Bloomberg sought to simplify school ratings by using letter grades, the system was criticized for being blunt and unreliable; they caused controversy or alterations in other states, too.

Some advocates, including Education Trust, think it is crucial for parents to have a summative rating, so they have a clear and easy way to see if a school is high-quality. (The group has not advocated specifically for an A-F rating.)

Whether or not they use a summative rating, the Regents could also create dashboards with several metrics. Some indicators may be based on performance and used explicitly for accountability, while others may simply provide information. For instance, the state could choose to display per-pupil student funding, which doesn’t work as a school accountability metric because it’s out of a school’s control.

The state has worked extensively with Linda Darling-Hammond, one of the nation’s leading education researchers, who champions a dashboard approach. She explained in an interview with Chalkbeat earlier this year why she thinks the dashboard approach is key and how she thinks it could be a lever for equity.

“I’ve never heard a parent who said, ‘Can you just give my first-grader a single rating and tell me how I rate against the other children in the class with no other details?’ Darling-Hammond said. “It’s not very helpful to move the child forward if you don’t have those specifics.”

Will integration be a part of the plan?

New York state has some of the most segregated schools in the country. At the last Regents meeting, state officials suggested they may leverage ESSA to do something about it.

They could ask schools to report a metric that shows the diversity of their school on a dashboard of other metrics, for instance, or encourage schools to use integration strategies as part of a school turnaround strategy.

The details of how this would work are hazy, but any chance to elevate these issues to the state level is welcome news to advocates.

“I’ve been kind of anxious to see what New York state is going to do about it,” said Matt Gonzales, who leads school integration efforts for the nonprofit New York Appleseed. “The fact that they’re at least having discussions about it, for me, I think that’s a good sign.”

Will they make any major changes to state tests?

The federal law allows seven states to participate in a pilot program designed to create innovative assessments. Originally, New York officials expressed interest in applying.

But their interest waned when they found out the pilot comes with no additional funding, which means overhauling testing would come with a massive bill. The state asked for $8 million from the legislature to pilot project-based assessments this year, but did not get the money.

Regent Judith Chin suggested that any inclusion of newer, innovative assessments in the draft plan would likely be “very targeted” because the state is required to implement this plan in a relatively short period of time.

How will they use test scores?

When U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos bungled a question about the difference between growth and proficiency at her confirmation hearing, the nerdy policy debate that many believe is at the heart of ESSA hit the national stage.

But in New York, it will now move beyond dinner party jokes to a serious issue that New York’s policymakers have to decide. They will need to determine to what extent it should matter if students reach a certain bar, like a third-grade reading level, versus whether students made progress compared to where they started.

No Child Left Behind focused on proficiency. Some say that is an important measure because the ultimate goal is to make every student college- and career-ready by graduation.

But critics say a narrow focus on proficiency leads schools to pay more attention to students close to attaining proficiency and ignore those far behind or far ahead. It can also be unfair for schools that serve high-needs students, since those populations of students often start well below grade-level.

Instead, some experts say, it’s essential to put as much emphasis on growth as possible.

“Historically, we’ve judged schools based on the level that students are achieving at,” said David Griffith, a research and policy associate at the right-learning Fordham Institute. “That’s accountability 1.0 and I think it’s high time to move onto accountability 2.0.”

Other than that, what might be different?

Under ESSA, states get to experiment with a way to judge schools beyond academic achievement and test scores.

Many states, including New York, have been looking at attendance and chronic absenteeism as possible metrics. Based on a draft set of potential indicators released in April, the state is looking at attendance and absenteeism, along with gauges of high school success, such as whether students took advanced classes or CTE coursework. The state will also have to include a metric to judge the progress of English language learners.

That set of potential yardsticks does not seem terribly different from what other states have proposed, said Priscilla Wohlstetter, a professor at Columbia’s Teachers College. If they wanted to truly alter their approach, they might look to a program in California that’s testing students’ social-emotional skills, she said. (It’s worth noting, however, that the woman who has championed the importance of “grit,” says it should not be used as an accountability metric.)

Meanwhile, some teachers are pushing for school climate to be part of the accountability mix. A letter with 479 signatures from Educators for Excellence, a teacher advocacy group, urges the state to consider including school discipline data, chronic absenteeism and school surveys in the plan.

How will they choose to intervene in struggling schools?

The new law also allows states to decide how they want to intervene in schools they determine are struggling.

Compared to the discussion about metrics and test scores, this topic has gotten relatively little attention. Regent Chin said it’s likely the state will propose something that resembles the current receivership model, which means a small number of schools may be taken over by an outside entity if they fail to meet state benchmarks.


Denver East High principal Andy Mendelsberg out after investigation into cheerleading scandal

PHOTO: John Leyba / The Denver Post
Denver's East High School.

The principal of Denver’s East High School has retired after an investigation into how school district officials handled complaints about the actions of the school’s cheerleading coach found principal Andy Mendelsberg “did not take the necessary steps to ensure that the physical and emotional health and safety of the students on the cheer team was fully protected,” according to a letter from Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

Former East principal John Youngquist will return to Denver to lead the school, Boasberg announced Friday. Youngquist served for the past four years as a top official in Aurora Public Schools.

East is the most-requested high school in Denver Public Schools. The 2,500-student school is known for its comprehensive academic program, as well as its breadth of sports and extracurricular activities.

Mendelsberg had been on leave since August, when 9News first aired videos that showed East cheerleaders being forced into the splits position while teammates held their arms and legs and former coach Ozell Williams pushed them down.

The parents of at least one cheerleader who was injured by the practice emailed a video to the East High athletic director in mid-June asking “what the administration is going to do about my daughter’s injury and how it happened,” according to emails provided to 9News.

After the 9News story broke two months later, Williams was fired.

Mendelsberg’s exit coincides with the conclusion of an independent investigation by an outside law firm commissioned by DPS. The district on Friday released a report detailing the firm’s findings.

According to Boasberg’s letter, the investigation found that “over multiple months, in response to multiple concerns of a serious nature,” Mendelsberg and East athletic director Lisa Porter failed to keep the students on the cheer team safe.

Specifically, the letter says Mendelsberg and Porter did not “sufficiently address, share or report allegations of abuse and the contents of the videos;” failed to provide the necessary level of oversight for the cheer coach, “especially as concerns mounted;” and failed to take corrective action, including firing Williams.

At a press conference Friday afternoon, Boasberg said that in addition to what was captured on video, concerns about Williams included that he instructed athletes not to tell anyone what happened at practice and required them to friend him on social media “with the express purpose of him monitoring their social media presence.”

Boasberg said that “raises deeper concerns about what was going on here.”

Mendelsberg, Porter, assistant cheer coach Mariah Cladis and district deputy general counsel Michael Hickman were put on leave while the investigation was ongoing. The Denver police also launched an investigation.

Porter resigned her position earlier this week, Boasberg said.

Hickman received corrective action but is being reinstated after the investigation revealed he didn’t know the full extent of what happened, Boasberg said.

Cladis, who was not at practice during the splits incident and whose position was volunteer, is welcome to remain the assistant cheer coach, he said.

Mendelsberg had been principal since 2011. But he’d worked at East much longer as a teacher, softball coach, dean of students, athletic director and assistant principal, according to a story in the Spotlight alumni newsletter published in 2012.

Youngquist preceded Mendelsberg, having served as principal of East from 2007 to 2011. He left the school to take a districtwide position leading the recruitment and development of DPS principals. In 2013, Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn hired him to be that district’s chief academic officer, a job he’s held until now.

Regarding his decision to return to East, Youngquist said, “My heart has drawn me toward supporting this learning community now and well into the future.”

As a parent and school leader, he said he understands the trust that parents put in schools. “I’m committed to strengthening that bond and partnership with our young people, our parents and with our great East staff,” he said.

Munn has already appointed an interim chief academic officer: Andre Wright, who currently serves as a P-20 learning community director. In a statement Friday, Munn said he “will evaluate the role and expectations of the (chief academic officer) position prior to developing a profile for that position moving forward.”

“We thank John Youngquist for his four years of service … and wish him all the best in his next chapter,” Munn said.

Chalkbeat reporter Yesenia Robles contributed information to this report.


McQueen’s deadline looms for Memphis and Nashville to share student info with charter schools — and no one is budging

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
A request for student contact information from Green Dot Public Schools to help with enrollment efforts sparked a fight between the state and Shelby County Schools.

As Tennessee’s two largest school districts fought an order to share student information with charter schools, the state education commissioner set a deadline last week.

Candice McQueen told the superintendents of Shelby County Schools and Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools they had to provide the data to charter schools that asked for it by Sept. 25 — or the state would “be forced to consider actions to enforce the law.”

But with just three days until the deadline, neither district has said it will budge. The consequences “will be determined Monday,” McQueen told Chalkbeat on Friday.

McQueen has not offered more information about what those consequences could be, though some lawmakers have worried it could mean funding cuts. There is some precedent for such a move: The Nashville district lost $3.4 million in state funding in 2012 when it refused to approve a controversial charter school, according to The Tennessean.

The clash comes after the Nashville and Memphis districts refused to turn over student contact information to charter networks, who argue that information is vital to their operation. Many Memphis schools, including those in the state-run school district, have been struggling with under-enrollment.

An amendment to an untested U.S. Department of Education rule suggests local districts can withhold information like phone numbers, addresses and email addresses — but a new state law requires Tennessee districts to hand it over to charter schools within 30 days.

The state department of education asked the attorney general’s office to weigh in. Last week, the attorney general said the districts had to turn the information over, but also that districts could take a “reasonable period of time” to notify parents about their right to opt out.

Shelby County Schools posted opt-out forms for parents on its website the next day, and gave parents until Oct. 22 to fill them out. The form allows parents to keep their information from charter schools specifically or from outside entities more broadly, including companies like yearbook providers, for example.

What Memphis parents should know about how schools share student information

The school boards for the two districts have been in lockstep in defying the state’s order, with the Memphis board even offering to write a legal opinion if Nashville were to go to court over the issue.

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said his legal team is still reviewing the attorney general’s opinion.

“We still want to make sure parents know what their options are,” Hopson told Chalkbeat on Tuesday. “When we [McQueen and I] talked, she understood that our opt-out forms were out there.”

Anna Shepherd, board chair for the Nashville district, said the board met with its attorney this week to discuss the issue but took no action.

“We have not had any further conversation with the state concerning the release of data for MNPS students,” Shepherd said by email. “I’m not anticipating any action [before Monday].”

Reporter Caroline Bauman contributed to this report.