Washington’s new school rating system is a work in progress. Attend a public meeting and voice your opinions now.
“LAUGHTER” was the predominant answer from my fourth-graders when I asked them the question: “What makes a good school?” Sure, learning to read, write and do math were on the list, but mostly they wanted schools to be graded on laughter and smiles. This got me thinking.
On Dec. 10, 2015, President Obama signed a new federal law, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), to replace the outdated and broken No Child Left Behind legislation. ESSA was co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, (D-Wash.) and passed with bipartisan support. ESSA is not perfect, but it gets many things right. For one, it allows states to broaden accountability measures for schools.
Due to ESSA, states are now responsible for developing criteria distinguishing “good” schools from schools in need of support. The old “failing” school designation is gone, and, although achievement test measures are still with us, we can now use multiple measures to evaluate schools. This is what prompted the question to my class. I am not sure how to measure smiles, or if there is data to support laughter’s role in student success, but the ESSA tells us that states may include measures of:
• Student engagement
• Educator engagement
• Student access to and completion of advanced coursework
• Postsecondary readiness
• School climate and safety; and any other indicator the state chooses that meets the requirements of this clause
Yes, we can measure things beyond the reach of test scores. We can paint a broader picture of our classrooms, our schools and our districts. We should. It is in the best interests of the kids in our state to do so.
The federal government has finally figured out what teachers know: Students in our classrooms are more than test scores. They are people with varied interests, strengths and needs. Our school rating systems can now reflect this reality. But how? What measures should we use to represent holistic growth in our students?
Currently there is an accountability systems group, led by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, working on answering these questions for Washington schools. I am on this committee, along with many other committed education advocates. ESSA tells us to “meaningfully differentiate” between schools in order to give accolades to top schools and to determine the bottom 5 percent of schools so we can find ways to support them. But we need community input.
Everyone agrees that schools must be fully funded and that there is room for growth in all schools.
The question is: How do we want schools to improve?
• Smaller class sizes?
• Access to culturally relevant curriculum?
• Strong student engagement?
• Adequate recess time?
• Highly effective teaching?
• Low suspension or expulsion rates?
• Number of students absent?
We need community input on this issue. In fact, the law requires it.
On Tuesday, from 6 to 8 p.m. there is a public forum at the Highline Performing Arts Center in Burien, a live webinar on Aug. 1 (registration required), and another forum in Bremerton on Aug. 2. Information can be found at: www.k12.wa.us/essa
We want and need public input on these critical issues. Our new accountability system is a work in progress. Voice your opinions now. Or better yet, bring a student to share their perspective. After all, this policy is their future at stake.