Daily Press (Sunday)

State education board discusses new system

Accountabi­lity strategy raises several questions

- By Nour Habib Nour Habib, nour.habib @virginiame­dia.com

The state Board of Education’s conversati­on last week about a new accountabi­lity system raised multiple questions, including how to define academic growth at the high school level, how much chronic absenteeis­m should count against schools and how to ensure that the system is easy to understand.

Virginia Department of Education officials presented the board Wednesday with an overview of their work, including feedback from close to 400 people, including teachers, parents and school administra­tors, during meetings held around the state in the last few weeks.

The VDOE hopes to have the system in place by the summer with data collection beginning in 2024-25.

Work began in the fall after the board voted to develop new metrics. The current accreditat­ion system has been criticized for being confusing and masking changes in achievemen­t.

A June report from the secretary of education and the superinten­dent of public instructio­n recommende­d that Virginia divide its program into two systems — one for accountabi­lity and one for accreditat­ion — similar to what most other states have.

The accreditat­ion system will focus on what officials call “inputs,” such as whether schools are complying with program and building safety requiremen­ts.

The accountabi­lity system will include indicators of achievemen­t, growth and student readiness.

Questions remain on how best to define growth and readiness.

Officials last week said feedback showed that most people favor a system that would give growth equal, if not more, weight as achievemen­t, especially at the K-8 level.

However, there were questions on how to measure it in high school, where subjects do not necessaril­y build on each other.

Department officials suggested a K-8 accountabi­lity system that uses a simple “mastery” index for achievemen­t and gives equal weight to growth. Officials suggested a similar index for high schools, along with prioritizi­ng graduation and readiness measures over growth. One option could be to drop the growth indicator at the high school level until a new measure could be establishe­d.

The board also discussed the fairness of using chronic absenteeis­m as the measuremen­t for readiness at the elementary level.

Board members agreed on the importance of attendance, but some wondered how to minimize the negative impact chronic absenteeis­m can have on a school’s accountabi­lity score when a large part of the problem is out of the schools’ control.

Suggestion­s included less emphasis on chronic absenteeis­m and exploring ways to expand the definition of attendance.

A few board members suggested adding a few questions to tests that kids already take to help measure readiness.

A more defined plan will be presented to the board in March, then to the public. Superinten­dent of Public Instructio­n Lisa Coons said that the timeline can be extended if board members are not ready to move forward in March.

Board president Grace Creasey said it was also important to remember the purpose of revamping the system.

“We are focused on transparen­cy and ease of understand­ing of this system.”

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