By Heather Hough and Michael Kirst
After more than a decade of strict federal mandates and measures of school success, a new education law is inviting policymakers across the country to rethink “accountability.” The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) takes a more comprehensive approach to assessing school quality than the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), moving beyond NCLB’s focus on annual test performance to also consider factors like student academic growth, graduation rates, and rates of proficiency for English language learners. The law also requires at least one additional measure of “School Quality or Student Success” (SQSS), such as student engagement, college readiness, or school climate. And it empowers states to design their own accountability systems, leaving behind the one-size-fits-all mandates of NCLB.
In California, we’ve moved beyond assigning schools a single number score each year and are implementing a “dashboard” accountability system, to better capture and communicate multiple dimensions of school performance. Such a dashboard can provide rich information and support the many functions that accountability systems serve: providing guidance to parents and educators on district and school strengths and weaknesses; identifying struggling schools; and supporting the design and implementation of assistance strategies.
Yet, while ESSA requires states to consider multiple measures, current draft regulations then call on us to crunch them into a single, summative rating to identify struggling schools. This practice not only runs counter to the spirit of multiple measures, it is bound to create inaccurate ratings and should not be part of the final regulations adopted by the U.S. Department of Education later this year.