Last year, Connecticut changed their school accountability system, updating the way student test scores factor into school ratings. Previously, schools were graded on how many kids met grade level expectations, now the state looks solely at growth data.
Sounds great — but is this is this really the best way to measure whether schools are doing a good job educating students? The U.S. Department of Education doesn’t seem to think so.
Last week, the Department of Education criticized Connecticut for having an incomplete ESSA plan. According to the CT Mirror, the federal government’s peer-review of Connecticut’s ESSA plan called the state out for how the plan measures student performance, including the performance of English Language Learners, and the use of “super subgroups,”:
“Reviewers at the federal Department found the way Connecticut measures the performance of its public schools lacking and its plans to begin tracking the achievement of English learners vague.
State officials must now decide whether they want to revise or defend Connecticut’s plan before U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos officially considers whether to approve or reject it…”
Some background on ESSA
Back in 2015, the U.S. Congress passed the latest reauthorization of the Elementary And Secondary Education Act (ESEA) after years of failed attempts.
Originally passed in 1965 during the Lydon B. Johnson administration, as part of his “War On Poverty,” you may remember ESEA from what it was called last time it was reauthorized: ‘No Child Left Behind.’
Broadly, the ‘Every Student Succeeds Act’ or ESSA for short, differs from ‘No Child Left Behind’ in that it gives some power back to the states to develop their own accountability systems.
While the states have the flexibility to develop their own plans and set their own priorities, they still have to submit those plans to the federal government. ESSA requires that states meet certain guidelines — for example, the state plan must track the performance of English Language Learners and graduation rates.
Does Connecticut’s ESSA Plan Obscure Actual Performance?
While they found numerous issues, overall, those issues could be boiled down to the state skirting guidelines, potentially inflating school data.
For example, Department of Education’s peer reviewers called out the state for measuring schools based on growth, pointing out that, “simply measuring growth will not provide an understanding as to whether students are achieving grade-level proficiency.”
In real terms, with the current plan in place, a school could get a high rating, with zero percent of students meeting grade level goals. More than that, theoretically a high performing school could be rated lower than a struggling school merely if that school’s students experience higher levels of growth.
Another issue they found was the use of super subgroups. The current state plan calls for lumping English Learners, students with special needs and low-income students into one “high needs” category for the purposes of accountability. This means that schools will not be held accountable for the performance of specific subgroups of students.
The federal reviewers wrote that this practice could mean that the state may “fail to identify the needs of a specific group of students.”
The guidelines set out by ESSA reflect the purpose of the law, which ultimately is meant to protect marginalized students. Yet, at the heart of the federal government’s criticism of Connecticut’s plan is the issue of transparency.
Not that this is a shocker considering the state’s track record — for example, Connecticut’s recent watering down of its teacher evaluation system — but transparency is a big deal when it comes to protecting students rights.
To read more about the state’s ESSA plan, here’s a copy of the federal peer reviewer’s comments, as originally posted on CT Mirror.com: