- A bill under consideration by the state Colorado state legislature would create a $500,000 grant program that school districts, charter schools and educational cooperatives could use to develop alternative accounting systems, which would be shared with other district leaders at an annual meeting and evaluated after three years to determine their impact on school improvement and student success, Chalkbeat reports.
- The bill has broad bipartisan support because it leaves current accountability measures based on results of standardized testing in place while experimenting with other metrics that consider the whole child and provide better feedback about ways to improve school climate and effectiveness.
- The Student-Centered Accountability Project, a coalition of rural school districts in the state, has already worked for four years on developing a school improvement system that measures elements such as quality of instruction and student traits such as grit, perseverance and ability to relate to peers. The program relies on surveys and peer feedback from other districts, and it is designed to help districts gain more valuable information about how to improve.
Most states rely heavily on standardized test scores to evaluate the performance of students, teachers, schools and districts. There is some value in using this as a metric because it is fairly objective, provides clear data points, and can be easily compared across school districts. It also helps measure equity in education because it is inclusive and demonstrates achievement gaps between subgroups that need to be addressed.
However, over-reliance on testing data has also created other problems, as it has narrowed the focus of education. One unintentional consequence is the limitation of curriculum opportunities as schools put more focus on the aspects of education that are measured. Another consequence is that many important qualities in students are overlooked — including perseverance, creativity, and the ability to collaborate. These traits are at least as important to future success as the recall of information is. Over-reliance on testing has also driven some teachers to “teach to the test,” and some have tried to game the system in fraudulent ways in order to improve the standing of their schools and themselves.
New ways of evaluating students and schools are clearly needed if educators and parents are to gain a more accurate picture of where students and schools are and where they need to be. The purpose of any evaluation should be not only to pinpoint current progress, but also to provide indications on ways to move forward more effectively. Test scores alone cannot do this.
The Every Students Succeeds Act has given states more freedom to include other metrics in the evaluation process. Some states are now including indicators of student engagement, such as school attendance, in their state plans, while others are focusing on measures of school climate to indicate an environment conducive to learning.
Colorado’s consideration of this new bill could be another step forward as it allows districts to explore new ways to evaluate progress more effectively with the goal of improvement in mind. While there needs to be some consistency for comparison purposes, school districts have different needs that require different evaluation processes. For rural school districts, current methods of evaluation are skewed when populations are too small to measure effectively, for instance. If this bill passes in Colorado, the state could serve as an example to others seeking to rethink accountability and school improvement processes.