Test results show Washington is making 'little progress' toward closing gaps

Test results show Washington is making 'little progress' toward closing gaps

The results of last spring’s Smarter Balanced tests are in, and Washington State’s students scored almost exactly the same as they had the year before on the standardized math and language arts tests.

Paige Cornwell dug into the uninspiring results recently for the Seattle Times. The only areas of statewide improvement over the previous year were sixth- and seventh-grade math, and seventh grade reading, which had the largest gain at 1.6 percent.

That’s it.

“What jumps out are the persistent achievement gaps and the fact that little progress is being made,” state superintendent Chris Reykdal said, “and it’s not enough.”

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Do any parents know anything about Washington State's ESSA plan?

Do any parents know anything about Washington State's ESSA plan?

Washington State submitted its ESSA plan to the feds last week. But you already knew that, right?

Wait, you didn’t? You don’t even know what ESSA is?

Fear not. You’re not alone. Nobody else I know seems to know anything about it either.

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My only honest opinion about Washington’s ESSA plan is to reject it entirely

I couldn't possibly look at this ESSA plan for another moment.

I couldn't possibly look at this ESSA plan for another moment.

Check out this blog post from the Washington State Superintendent’s Office (OSPI). It’s supposed to explain how our state will hold public schools accountable for educating all kids.

Thanks to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), each state is required to have a plan for this if they want to continue getting money from the federal government. But instead of clarifying anything, their blog post reads like a user’s manual that’s been translated from English to German and back to English again.

Here’s an excerpt (if your eyes start to cross, just skip to the next paragraph):

In order to measure school performance and identify schools who need further support, the Accountability System Workgroup voted to recommend that each school’s performance be measured on a 1–10 scale for each measure. These scales will be frozen, allowing schools to move around as they make progress between years. The multiple measures that make up this performance framework will be calculated for both the school as a whole and for all subgroups, which will unmask student subgroups. The lowest performing five percent of schools will be identified for comprehensive support, and any student subgroup that falls below the five percent threshold will be identified for targeted support, separate from comprehensive support.

Then, with no further explanation, we are given this equally confusing graphic to look at:

oblique ESSA graphic

 

What About Parents Like Me?

This is all supposed to provide clarity for parents like me who send their kids to schools like Emerson.

Emerson is our neighborhood elementary school, and my son is a third-grader there. He and the vast majority of his fellow students are students of color, and it’s one of just a couple schools in Seattle whose free/reduced lunch percentages are so high that every kid gets to eat for free.

We are starting this new school year with our third new principal in four years. We’re excited about the new leadership, and we love the diversity of the student body and the staff. But the fact remains that we don’t have the resources or the outcomes at Emerson that more affluent schools enjoy in Seattle.

Ours is a school that has been neglected by the system for decades now. So you’ll excuse me if I have a hard time seeing how this chart will do anything to change that. (Also, for what it’s worth, it looks like they chose the chart’s color palette from the patterned Crock-Pot my parents got as a wedding gift in the late ’70s.)

I’m Losing Faith

It makes me question the whole premise of creating a “state accountability plan” under ESSA. Why are we investing all this time and effort in creating a system that has no backbone, that doesn’t even try to solve our greatest issues?

As a parent of Black children, as a parent feeling concerned about the significant equity issues in our schools, this plan doesn’t connect to reality for me. It assumes the status quo is a reasonable starting point.

Seattle has the fifth-worst achievement gap between Black students and white students in the nation. We’ve been found guilty of disproportionately disciplining Black students across the district. These are not abstract figures. These are real kids, people’s beloved children, being chewed up and spit out by an unfair, racist system. How is this state accountability system going to help me as a parent?

The truth is, it can’t help me. It can’t help my kids. Because that’s not what it was designed to do.

Washington State was given a chance to redesign what we do in our schools by asking and answering some big questions: What will we reward? What do we truly value? What will we do to make sure our systems and our schools and our teachers treat all kids and families fairly and with respect?

But instead of meeting these deep-seated issues with vulnerability and courage, we buried them in the weeds of our ESSA plan, slapping a new name on the same limited scope and timid vision that have been guiding our schools since forever.

It’s not enough.

Sure, the plan acknowledges our opportunity and achievement gaps, but it takes only the smallest of steps toward closing them. It will give Emerson slightly different amounts of money for slightly different reasons. But it fails to address the source of Emerson’s neglect and instead merely changes the bandages on our gaping wound. It can only hope to stop the bleeding, not to actually heal anything.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I need Washington’s ESSA plan, frankly, to read like an anti-bias manifesto, or I don’t care about it. I need it not to simply acknowledge and pay lip service to systemic racism and classism and the gaps they create. I need our state’s plan to acknowledge that nothing else matters until these gaps are closed -- that if our schools are setting some students up for success at the expense of others, then our schools are part of the problem of systemic division and oppression that plagues our country as a whole.

We know firsthand in Washington state what’s possible when you take bold direct action in the name of human rights. Our voices legalized gay marriage and public school choice. We’ve been a standard-bearer for the rest of the nation in standing up to oppressive federal legislation this year.

But when it comes to our kids and our schools, we’re quiet. We’re accepting of milquetoast. We’re willing to let our schools be so much less than they must be.

An inequitable school system fails everyone by perpetuating disparity and discrimination. Our statewide school leaders are failing us in the same way by accepting this incremental, play-it-safe plan. It’s time to start thinking differently about “fixing” education.

We don’t need education reform. We need an education revolution. And maybe that starts by more boldly and more strongly rejecting the systems that keep us from realizing those changes.

Washington’s ESSA plan is the latest and greatest extension of that willingness to make slow, barely noticeable “progress” at the expense of our currently vulnerable students and families. It’s a written testament to our passive approach to school reform.

So, my only honest response to Washington’s ESSA plan is to say, no. Our kids need a revolution and you’re offering a clean band-aid. It’s not enough.

Time is running out! Public comment on ESSA in Washington State ends Tuesday

Time is running out! Public comment on ESSA in Washington State ends Tuesday

"This is our last chance to ask the important questions. Does Washington's ESSA plan protect our most vulnerable students? Is our plan bold enough to truly eliminate our state's significant opportunity and achievement gaps? Will every student genuinely have the opportunity to succeed under this plan?

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Can ESSA encourage more social-emotional learning in school?

Can ESSA encourage more social-emotional learning in school?

"Students don't fare as well academically when they're not able to handle the emotional rigors of being a human, or the social pressures of growing up. When their basic needs aren't being met, or when they're consistently the targets of racist thoughts, words and deeds.

Schools won't be able to fully address students' social and emotional development without acknowledging race and inequity. If they're forced to improve SEL, it may gradually force schools to create a better environment for students of color and students from low-income families -- those typically on the wrong side of the opportunity gap.

Pushing schools to focus on SEL could be a sneaky tool for equity in the end."

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Chris Reykdal wants to engage ‘our diverse community,’ so he scheduled a webinar

You’ve probably heard this story before. A folksy, man-of-the-people politician has a decision to make, and he needs to know what his constituents think about the matter. He needs to tap into the wisdom of the people so that his policies can “reflect the needs of our diverse community.”

So, the politician (in this case, let’s call him Washington Superintendent Chris Reykdal) rolls up his sleeves and meets the people where they’re at, right? He needs to hear from us -- the people! -- so Reykdal reaches out and connects with us on our terms, not his. He listens without making assumptions.

He… schedules a series of informational webinars!

Gosh, Chris. As always, you really get me.

With Washington’s ESSA accountability plan due to the feds in September, Reykdal’s office has scheduled four webinars in August to share details, recent revisions, and ways to give feedback on the plan. I’ve already had to drink an extra cup of coffee just thinking about trying to stay awake through it.

But seriously, this is all real. That line about “reflecting the needs of our diverse community” is taken right from Reykdal’s recent press release announcing these webinars. The stated goal is to get some feedback from people like me and you on our state’s new education plan -- a federal requirement.

If Reykdal is actually listening, here’s what I want him to hear about me and my community:

If you’re not willing to turn things on their head, you can’t solve our problems. The opportunity gap didn’t just arise a few years ago. People of color have always been oppressed in this country, and that has always played out in our education system as well. If you think a few tweaks are all it will take to set our schools on a different path, we disagree. We need you to be bold, or else to sleep at night knowing that your time in this office is coming at the expense of our kids.

OSPI (the state superintendent’s office) will officially release the revised plan on Aug. 7, opening up a 30-day public comment period. They will ask for comment and approval from Gov. Jay Inslee, the state legislature and the state board of education at that time as well. All this feedback will be compiled for Reykdal to review before submission, who promises in the press release to “use our new flexibility to support all students and address gaps for students that have been historically underserved by our education system.”

Nice. But as always, they don’t tell us how they’re going to do it. They just tell us how they’re going to pay for it. So, Washington’s plan describes methods of financial support for struggling students and schools, but it does not outline significant practical changes that can be expected to actually help close our state’s opportunity gap, which is one of the worst in the nation.

That’s going to take bold, drastic, at-times-unpopular changes. Real, concrete changes involving new policies, expectations and repercussions. Instead, we’re getting a lot of people sincerely agreeing that we should close the opportunity gap, then shaking hands and moving on with business as usual.

Reykdal shared his vision for our schools earlier this month, and it was similarly vague when it comes to equity, acknowledging our gaps and our systemic discrimination without offering tangible solutions.

For what it’s worth, just about every state seems to be struggling with this same issue. Still, I question just how effectively Reykdal’s office is truly engaging stakeholders, because that’s where these answers can be found. A group of Seattle educators and NAACP members, for example, offered a “concrete plan to close intolerable opportunity gaps” in Seattle Public Schools just a couple days ago. The Campaign for Student Success has authored a detailed plan for equitable school funding in the state. Organic, community-based ideas and leadership are not in short supply. They’re just not always recognized.

The 30-day comment period that will open up in August is our last chance to impact the plan that will guide our schools into the next decade.

Registration information for the four webinars:

• Tuesday, August 15, 4–6 p.m. (register)

• Saturday, August 19, 11 a.m.–1 p.m. (register)

• Wednesday, August 23, 5–7 p.m. (register)

• Wednesday, August 30, 6–8 p.m. (register)

 

 

 

 

OSPI's plan for collecting school data lacks transparency and urgency

We can all pretty much agree that parents deserve to know how well their child’s school is doing. We can also agree, I think, that parents should be getting that information in a timely fashion. I mean, it wouldn’t do me much good to get my son’s second-grade report card when he’s in fifth grade.

That’s basically what OSPI is planning to do, though, so maybe I’m assuming too much thinking we all agree on the importance of timely information about schools.

Under Washington’s new ESSA plan, the state will measure graduation rates, how many students are reading and doing math on grade level, how well students are growing academically (even if they’re not yet on grade level), and other important stuff.

They’ll use all of this to give schools a report card based on a three-year average. Unfortunately, Washington will only ask schools to report every three years.

In other words, in some years, parents would have access only to school ratings based on information that’s between three and six years old. Taking a three-year average makes sense — it can be misleading to judge the hard work of teaching kids by such a small sample size as a single year. But not recalibrating that three-year average every year is a disservice to parents and others seeking to have timely information about what’s happening in Washington schools.

Take my son’s school, Emerson Elementary in South Seattle, as an example. We will have a new principal in the fall, and when Dr. Erin Rasmussen officially replaces the outgoing Dr. Andrea Drake next month, she will be the school’s fourth principal in the last four years.

So, if I’m a parent looking for more information about Emerson under Washington’s new ESSA plan, I might be looking at a rating based on data collected four principals ago.

Of course, it’s not exactly a straightforward process trying to learn about school quality as it is.

Emerson Elementary School Student Demographics

Emerson Elementary School Student Demographics

GreatSchools.org rates Emerson a 2 out of 10 and seems to consider the school to be subpar by almost every conceivable metric except diversity, which, to the site’s credit, they do explain as being a genuine strength.

Thurgood Marshall Elementary, as another example, is also a public elementary school in Seattle, but it’s an option school, which means students can enroll from anywhere in the district and typically whitens up the student demographics. Thurgood in particular commonly draws students from the south end looking for a choice beyond their neighborhood school.

Thurgood Marshall Elementary School Student Demographics

Thurgood Marshall Elementary School Student Demographics

Great Schools gives Thurgood Marshall a 10 out of 10 rating. The test scores look good, and it’s a fairly diverse school, even if white students do outnumber any other individual racial/ethnic group by more than 2:1. So, it must be better than Emerson, right?

As clear cut as Great Schools would make it seem, they aren’t sharing the full picture either. Take this article from last year from the Seattle Globalist, whose second paragraph poses a simple question you wouldn’t have known to ask from looking at Thurgood’s perfect rating: “Why are the classrooms inside Thurgood Marshall so segregated?”

So, then I’m back at square one. I obviously don’t want my son, himself a student of color, attending a school that is systematically discriminatory. But I obviously don’t want my curious, intelligent, expressive, creative son going to a school that can’t challenge him academically, either.

As always, I have more questions than answers. One thing is clear, though: it’s almost impossible to make a fully informed decision with our current school rating and accountability systems.

We need that to change, and moving to a data collection plan that only checks in every three years is not a step forward. If parents are going to gain timely access to truly relevant information about their schools, it will happen by monitoring this process of developing a new ESSA plan and demanding more equitable schools and more thorough, transparent reporting processes.

Keep tabs on the ESSA transition with the superintendent's 'official' blog and newsletter

In case you haven’t seen it yet, the school superintendent’s office in Washington State (OSPI) rolled out a new blog and newsletter devoted to keeping us updated on ESSA proceedings.

This is a great development for parents and communities across our state. OSPI picked a nice forum for this in Medium, and Ben King is breaking down a complicated issue and a long process into small chunks. He’ll have an important role to play in helping us hold the state accountable throughout this process, and I appreciate that our office of public instruction has taken the initiative on establishing this point of contact.

King wrote last week about how the Federal Programs team had sorted and classified its 500-plus pages of public input on ESSA. I would love to know which suggestions will be adopted and to see especially those considered not to be feasible.

This week, King posted OSPI's first animated ESSA flyer "to help Washingtonians understand the changes coming to our schools as we transition away from No Child Left Behind."

 

 

Here’s the homepage for OSPI’s ESSA blog, and here is OSPI’s latest ESSA newsletter.

We know the Trump administration doesn't care about education. Will Washington State step up to save our kids?

Each state is currently in the process of establishing a comprehensive education and accountability plan under ESSA, which they'll submit to the federal government for approval.

These plans will determine, among other things, how each state will address its opportunity gaps, how they'll measure progress toward closing those gaps, and how they will help struggling schools.

Our nation has been built on a sturdy framework of systemic racism, and that reality is quite evident in our public school system. If we want to close gaps and change outcomes for low-income students and students of color, this is where it begins.

States don't have a great track record of upholding human rights when they don't "have to," however. The federal government has been more likely to carve out new protections for human and civil rights than the states. Of course, those protections are always gradual and reluctant, but it's still typically the federal government leading the way with policy that leads to implemented changes at the state level.

Examples do exist, though, of states going out on a limb in the name of equity, and those bold moves have a way of impacting the nation. Washington State did that for marriage equality earlier this decade. We have a chance to do the same for educational equity if our leadership makes brave, potentially unpopular decisions during this critical time.

The state superintendent's office in Washington (OSPI) has convened an Accountability System Workgroup to work on these issues. Under the direct leadership of Michaela Miller and Ben Rarick, the committee currently consists of a whopping 39 members.

As I understand, OSPI promised to reduce the size of the workgroup, but this promise was then broken. This is especially problematic because many members of the group are redundant in their role and voting interests, allowing the WASA/AWSP/WSSDA contingent to largely vote as a bloc, effectively negating any diversity of opinion or perspective in terms of outcomes.

In the end it will mean district staff are unchecked in designing a system for holding themselves accountable to student outcomes.

Our state has appalling opportunity gaps along racial and socioeconomic lines, and it is time we held our education system to a substantially higher standard than the level of systemic oppression it's currently operating.

We know the current fascist-leaning federal administration doesn’t care about public education. We need OSPI to refuse to participate in perpetuating the failure of our kids. The time is now or never.

Everything you need to know right now about school accountability under ESSA in Washington State

I've been writing a lot about ESSA and the need for active vigilance as our states attempt to write their own school accountability standards and procedures.

Here in Washington, state education leaders have developed a first draft of the statewide education plan due to the U.S. Education Department by Sept. 18, 2017.

A major chunk of the plan is dedicated to school accountability: knowing how well schools are meeting the academic needs of students, showing that information to parents and communities, and helping schools that are struggling the most. Of everything that happens during the transition from No Child Left Behind, this part of the process will have the most impact on educational equity, which means it will have the most impact on our traditionally oppressed students and communities. Which means nothing else in this plan matters if we let our education leaders get this part wrong.

So, let's stay vigilant together. Here are some highlights and potential concerns from the first draft of Washington's consolidated ESSA plan:

The Goals

Elementary/Middle Schools

Where data is available, Washington wants 100 percent of elementary and middle school students testing on grade level (or on track to being there) by 2037. At the 10-year midpoint, they hope to have each subgroup of students (including different racial and ethnic groups, students with disabilities, low-income students, etc.) cut the learning gap in half.

So, if 40 percent of black students are testing at grade level in 2017, for example, the state would like to see 70 percent of them at grade level by 2027 (the gap to get to 100 percent was 60, so half of that means an increase of 30).

High Schools

In 10 years, at least 90 percent of students from each subgroup should be testing on grade level in high school and graduating from high school.

English language proficiency goals are still to be determined.

Tracking and Rating Schools

States also have to measure how schools are doing in other areas. Washington has chosen to look at graduation rates, whether students are meeting a minimum bar for grade-level work, how much students are growing academically, progress for non-native English speakers, and “School Quality or Student Success” (things like chronic absenteeism, dual-credit participation and the percent of 9th graders who don’t fail a course).

They’ll use all of these indicators to give schools an overall score or rating. 

The state hasn’t completely figured out its rating system yet. Everything related to academics (such as student performance on tests, graduation rates, etc.) will count for more than the school-quality factors just mentioned, but exactly how the state plans to calculate a score remains vague.

In the plan, students’ academic growth is considered to be of “high” importance, performing at grade level is “medium,” and school-quality factors are “low.” This seems like generally the right way to think about it — academic factors should be a priority and count for more in a school’s overall score — but “precise numerical weightings have not been assigned,” according to the draft plan.

When they do figure out how to calculate scores, Washington will give schools an overall rating on a 1-10 scale. They’ll also give schools a color label tied to that ranking.

These scores will be based on a three-year average. Unfortunately, Washington will only ask schools to report every three years. In other words, in some years, parents would be looking at a scores that use information that’s nearly six years old. Taking a three-year average makes sense — it can be misleading to judge the hard work of teaching kids by such a small sample size as a single year. But not recalibrating that three-year average every year is a disservice to parents and others seeking to have timely information about what’s happening in Washington schools. 

How are 'subgroups' counted?

Federal law says states have to track specific groups of students — the kind of kids who usually get the short end of the stick in education. Not only do states have to track them, but they must have a plan in place if those subgroups of students — again, students of color, students with disabilities, low-income students, etc. — are not getting the education they deserve.

In the section of the plan where states are supposed to identify each “major” and “racial ethnic” group, Washington seems to ignores the “major” part — students with disabilities, low-income students, and English learners — and only addresses the racial ethnic groups.

In another section, Washington says it plans to create two sets of subgroups to help them identify schools that need “targeted support” (see more on this in the next section). The first set would group racial and ethnic minorities together — nearly any non-white student, it would seem. The second, called the “program” group, would include English learners, students with disabilities, and low-income students.

It’s unclear if Washington will report on low-income students or students with disabilities if they aren’t identified for this level of support. The only mention of this second set is when the plan talks about providing support to struggling subgroups needing “targeted support.” If the state doesn’t report on them, it will create a serious issue of state transparency with parents, and it could also put the state in violation of federal law.

Support for Struggling Schools

Once Washington figures out how to give every school a score, education officials will identify the bottom five percent of schools to receive the highest level of support: "comprehensive support." Schools with a four-year graduation rate below 67 percent will also be marked for comprehensive support.

The state will give these schools 90 days to figure out what they need to improve and come up with a plan. The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s office (OSPI) will review those plans and get them back to the schools within 30 days. 

Schools that aren’t in the bottom five percent but have struggling subgroups of students will be identified as schools needing "targeted support.” The intervention is basically the same: Give them time to make a plan to turn things around. The major difference is funding. OSPI has no way of knowing for sure how much money will be available from the federal government, so comprehensive-support schools will be first priority when funding these plans. Whatever’s left will go to the targeted-support schools.

To identify targeted-support schools, the state will look at those two sets of subgroups (the racial/ethnic minorities set, and the “program” set with non-native English speakers, students with disabilities, and low-income students). Within each set, they’ll see which schools are struggling the most and select them for targeted support.

What's next?

We need to monitor the state's school rating system, which is currently in development by the Achievement and Accountability workgroup.

We also need to look into the rationale behind only checking school accountability measures every three years. This sets the stage for some very outdated information.

And we need to know if low-income students and students with disabilities will be reported on even if they don’t fall into the comprehensive or targeted support categories. This isn’t clear in the plan. We know they’ll be tracked for long-term goals, but outside of the targeted support details, they aren’t mentioned in the plan’s accountability section.

Finally, an update from OSPI about ESSA accountability plans

The Washington superintendent's office (OSPI) finally shared some updates last week about its plan for accountability under ESSA.

What does that mean? Here's some background from the press release released last week.

"The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which passed in December 2015, requires every state to submit a Consolidated Plan to the U.S. Department of Education. In part, Washington’s Plan details how school and district success will be measured and accounted for, as well as how the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) will support success."

Okay, why is that important? Well, this plan will determine what happens when schools are failing to close achievement gaps and/or to safely and effectively prepare all kids for life. It's the only mechanism we have to know how our schools are doing and to hold our government accountable to the promises they've made when it comes to the compulsory education of our kids.

Here's a quick summary (plus green bubbles):

WashingtonESSATimeline.jpg

So, there's a timeline. What else?

They are not currently accepting public comment. There are also very few details about the actual plan itself. It's more of a plan for making a plan. Like scheduling a meeting to decide when to meet.

Read the PR buzzwords for yourself:

An accountability framework was developed in 2016 using input and recommendations from the ESSA Accountability System Workgroup (ASW). Reykdal reconvened the ASW to continue its review of some requirements in the Accountability, Support, and Improvement section of the Consolidated Plan.
In addition to reconvening the ASW, Reykdal has created a new Accountability Technical Advisory Committee (TAC). The TAC will analyze state assessment and accountability data and research-based best practices to provide recommendations or options to the ASW based on the analysis. The ASW can then make recommendations to Superintendent Reykdal.
OSPI will continue to collaborate with the State Board of Education to produce one statewide accountability framework. Also, to continue building foundations for data-informed decision-making, OSPI will align the ESSA indicators and other performance indicators to ensure a high-quality system of accountability for our schools.
“ESSA ushers in an opportunity to look at how we are supporting the needs of all students in all schools in Washington state,” said Deputy Superintendent Michaela Miller, who is leading the ESSA work. “OSPI is looking forward to developing a continuum of support that elevates a focus on equity, closing opportunity gaps, and continuous growth and improvement.”
Reykdal is also reconvening the ESSA Federal Programs Team. This workgroup will continue to:
  • align all ESEA/ESSA programs with the goal of supporting students in mastering the knowledge and skills necessary for success in career, college, and life;
  • encourage greater coordination, planning, and service delivery among programs; and
  • enhance the integration of programs under this ESEA/ESSA with state and local programs.

 

The press release does mention equity and opportunity gaps, but it does so in the same vague way the gaps are always mentioned in Seattle and across Washington State. Racial and socioeconomic inequities are baked into our schools, creating and perpetuating a shameful opportunity gap. Our leaders talk about how it must and will be closed! And then we carry on with business as usual.

This all sounds like more of the same so far: lots of frameworks and alignment and collaboration and enhancement and coordination and integration and continuua of support. A beehive of words, but none to inspire hope that Chris Reykdal and company will be able to solve the problems they're admitting exist.

Washington is a notoriously progressive state, and Seattle is calling itself a sanctuary city. Our education leadership needs to follow suit by making decisions and implementing policies that are unapologetically equitable. We need to be willing to make white folks uncomfortable, to risk unpopularity by doing the right thing.

Can we count on Chris Reykdal, a politician who surely hopes to get elected to some further office in another few years, to take those bold actions? To take those bold risks?

I'm not holding my breath. If it's going to happen, though, this would be a good jumping-off point. Let's start backing up our empty words about closing gaps by making our accountability plan the loudest, boldest, most unapologetic promise of equity that any state submits.

Why aren't we seeing any developments on Washington's ESSA plan?

Another ESSA deadline came and went like a thief in the night. Did you notice?

In case you missed it — which you probably did, because nobody’s really been talking about it — Congress revamped No Child Left Behind and renamed it the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015. This new law changes a few things, but one of the most significant is that it hands over to states more control of their education systems.

One of the first steps in transitioning to ESSA is for states to submit accountability plans, essentially telling the feds how they plan to monitor themselves and hold themselves accountable within this new framework.

So, for the past year or so, states have been working on these plans, which will establish standards and accountability measures for things like upholding civil rights and serving traditionally neglected demographics.

Monday, April 3, was the first deadline to submit plans to the federal government. States were also given the option submit plans to their own governors on Monday, have them reviewed for 30 days, and then submit to the federal government by May 3. Colorado is doing that. In fact, nine states plus Washington D.C. submitted Monday, and more have announced plans to meet the April deadlne.

Here in Washington State, though, all is eerily quiet. Why aren't we seeing any developments on Washington's ESSA plan? Why is nobody -- aside from Chris Reykdal, who mentioned it once in a bizarre, obscure op-ed in the Eatonville Dispatch -- talking about it?

As I've said, it's hard to feel optimistic that Washington State, with its atrocious opportunity gaps and record of disproportionate discipline, will submit a plan to actually hold our schools accountable to standards they've never met. In fact, without vigilant public oversight, it's hard to see how our schools don't get worse through this process, which I had thought, given the current state of affairs, was inconceivable.

This whole ESSA process is supposed to include perpetual public input and feedback. Washington State has been utterly silent throughout this process. In fact, the state seems be intentionally minimizing public scrutiny — makes me all the more concerned about where we're headed.

 

Has Chris Reykdal already fallen behind as a watchdog for our kids?

We discussed Chris Reykdal, Washington's newly installed State Superintendent of Public Instruction, at great length last year. His opponent in last year's election, Erin Jones, was exceptionally qualified and the first Black woman to run for statewide public office in Washington, and we instead elected Reykdal, a white male career politician.

Now, after less than two months in office, Reykdal is already falling behind.

On Friday the Eatonville Dispatch published an op-ed from Superintendent Reykdal in which he vaguely pledged to "fight for supporters of public education."

He started by highlighting Congress' effort to repeal the regulations on school accountability (emphasis is mine):

On Feb. 9, Betsy DeVos was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as our nation’s 11th secretary of education. A few hours after the confirmation, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to repeal certain rules for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
The rules clarify how ESSA will be implemented in regard to teacher preparation programs and how schools and districts measure success.
The Senate must now vote on the repeal. If the Senate votes in favor of the repeal, the DeVos administration will write its own rules. 

I don't expect most parents to track all the policy developments happening in our nation's capitol, but I do expect the state superintendent to keep up. The U.S. Senate voted to repeal the regulations on March 9, more than a week before this op-ed posted. 

Here's a screenshot just in case they figure it out before something posts and take it down.

 

Reykdal got one thing right: the Betsy DeVos puppeteers will write their own rules if left unchecked, and we can count on those rules to be oppressive in ways both familiar and newly alarming.

Let's hope this is Reykdal's wake-up call, and maybe a reminder that he's the one, as our elected champion for students, who's supposed to be on top of these things.

How Parents Benefit from School Accountability

By Laura Waters

If you’re a parent like me, at the start of each school year you eagerly learn all about the course content your child will study, the enrichment opportunities available, the field trips your child will take and the school supplies your child will need as you brace yourself for that evening’s trip to Staples.

If you’re a taxpayer like me, you know how much of your money goes to public education.

In other words, you are well-informed about everything that goes into your child’s educational experience, which we can call “input.” But what about the output? How much do you really know, outside of parent-teacher conferences and the quarterly report card, about your child’s learning outcomes?

The answer is likely “not much,” and that’s true across America, both at the micro-level of your specific child and at the macro-level of schools, districts and historically under-served subgroups like English-language learners, students with disabilities, students of color, and students from economically-disadvantaged homes.

Yet, according to federal law—once called No Child Left Behind (NCLB), now called Every Student Succeeds Act(ESSA)—schools and states are responsible for both inputs and outputs in order to ensure adequate school quality and equity.

Another word for this sort of responsibility is “accountability,” a much-maligned word in the education arena, often clustered with other imprecations like “No Child Left Behind,” “Race to the Top,” “standardized tests,” and “value-added teacher evaluations.”

But accountability simply means that states are responsible not only for adequate inputs like sufficient funding, ambitious course content standard and high-quality instruction, but also for outputs like accurate measures of student learning and teacher effectiveness. They are also responsible for intervening in the lowest-performing schools through extra funding, new leadership and other turnaround strategies.

These strategies, of course, are mere inputs. If student achievement—the ultimate output—remains stagnant then those initiatives represent wasted resources and, more urgently, wasted time for that school’s students.

Over the last several years federal and state accountability legislation has come under attack from a duo of strange bedfellows: Tea Party/Trump-ish acolytes who wave the banner of local control and teacher union leaders who disdain objective measurements of student learning, at least when they’re tied to teacher evaluations and job security.

ESSA, America’s new federal education law, provides wiggle room to accommodate this political pressure, a kind of NCLB-lite, extracting federal teeth to gum onto the cachet of hands-off government.

Yet states still must, like under NCLB, administer annual standardized tests to students in grades three through eight, intervene in the lowest-performing schools, report progress for historically under-served subgroups, and submit accountability plans to the U.S. Department of Education.

But states can also play limbo (how low can you go?) with tying student outcomes to teacher evaluations and with how they measure school quality.

Daria Hall of Education Trust warns:

"We have to be really cautious because we know that states have a long track record of not making tough decisions when it comes to the interest of low-income students, students of color, English-language learners. If states are going to walk away from those students, we are going to lose whatever progress we’ve made with those students, who now make up the majority of our public school population."

Clear and sober data can help parents make informed school choices and learn more than what goes on that Staples shopping list. That’s a key goal of accountability systems. Now if only states could accept responsibility for the elements necessary to ensure that all students have access to the input of effective instructional services and the output of developmentally-appropriate proficiency.

 

An original version of this post appeared on New York School Talk as Beyond Staples: How Parents Benefit from School Accountability.