- Tensions in the education community are rising as states roll out their revamped ESSA accountability systems, which critics say — despite introducing new metrics like chronic absenteeism, teacher quality, and college and career readiness on streamlined websites — still lack detail and rely too much on test scores in evaluating school performance, Education Week reports.
- Several states have faced delays in releasing their new school report cards due to technical difficulties or design flaws, while others have dealt with inaccurately reported scores. In addition, some states have struggled to figure out how to merge state accountability systems with federal ESSA requirements, leading to states including Utah and Florida issuing multiple sets of assessments.
- At the local level, superintendents and other school leaders say even when these grades were released, they were problematic, and that by issuing letter grades, there's too much emphasis on the letter itself without an understanding of what's behind it or how accurately it represents a school.
There's a lot at stake with these new report cards. A lot of states, districts and schools haven't received marks in a long time, and these results help decide where federal and state school improvement funding goes. They also have the opportunity to serve as informative windows into what a particular district or school is excelling at and what it needs. So, it makes sense why administrators and parents are unnerved by these new evaluation systems, especially if they don't tell the whole story.
ESSA was created to change the game on measuring student and school performance. Previously, test scores dominated the field in determining schools' success and, as a result, the funding they received. But with this new federal policy, the goal is to focus less on standardized tests or summative assessments and more on a holistic approach that looks at a student's achievement and growth over the course of the whole year.
However, while ESSA requires each state to rate schools using a chosen set of indicator metrics, each state's implementation plan is different, leading to states facing different issues in releasing their report cards. In Tennessee, for instance, the state decided to rate its schools on a 0-4 scale instead of using letter grades, bringing joy to officials who said letter grades wouldn't be reflective of what their schools are doing well. But in Louisiana, educators lament the state's new system, which does utilize letter grades.
If these evaluations are overly simplistic, teachers and other educators who spend so much time in classrooms and offices for the benefit of students will likely feel disgruntled and frustrated with a rating that doesn't reflect the effort they're putting in.
Additionally, one requirement of the ratings system addresses other members of the school community who exist outside the classroom: parents. A "Dear Parent" letter from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was intended to clarify the new ESSA plans and their flexibilities. But with one letter grade serving as the ruling for an entire school or district, parents might be frustrated or confused about how this rating was decided or how it breaks down. This necessitates transparent and clear state metrics.
While much of these questions have yet to be answered as states and local school leaders work to sort out the issues, keeping all stakeholders up to date and in the loop is important for a smoother process. Additionally, embracing advocacy can help educators better ensure that the thoughts and voices of school representatives are heard in the policymaking world.