Let’s Not Just Refine, but Reimagine Accountability

December 21st, 2011

Category: News

The Department of Education recently released the initial draft of our ESEA waiver application– demonstrating Delaware’s initial vision for next generation accountability while leaving room for input and improvement.

Based upon Delaware’s initial draft, we are proposing to:

  • Establish the goal of reducing achievement gaps, among all subgroups, in half over six years (e.g. raising achievement among all students in ELA from 64% to 82% – or half way to 100% proficiency);
  • Create a seven tiered accountability/recognition system, with ratings based upon student achievement and growth;
  • Continue with the Partnership Zone initiative, as currently structured, in order to turnaround our lowest-performing schools;
  • Identify at least seven Title I (and an unspecified number of non-Title I) schools as “Focus” schools – which will be required to develop targeted plans to help struggling students; and
  • Recognize 10 additional schools, in addition to five “Reward” schools through our Academic Achievement Awards program, for positive student achievement gains.

These components put us on the path towards developing a more rigorous, yet nimble, next generation accountability system.  After scanning other states’ waiver applications for ideas (which can be found here), Delaware could consider:

  • Simplifying subgroup classifications in order to reduce duplicity, maximize the number of students counted for accountability, and focus our attention on specific student cohorts (i.e. non-proficient students in Colorado or high-needs students in Massachusetts);
  • Measuring progress over multiple years in order to get a more accurate picture of student learning that is not influenced by dramatic fluctuations;
  • Implementing a more granular measure of student progress towards our six year goal of closing achievement gaps, similar to Massachusetts;
  • Establishing more rigorous expectations for “Priority”, or Partnership Zone, schools in order to enable them to turn things around for their students;
  • Outlining specific and rigorous student learning targets in order to exit “Focus” or “Priority” status – with clear consequences for failure; and
  • Granting “Reward” and “Recognition” schools greater flexibility around state requirements in order to enable innovative practices to take hold.

The initial draft is a positive first step – which is no easy task to start from scratch.  It’s particularly heartening to see Delaware put forth an aggressive target of closing achievement gaps within six years.  However, other states have already drafted and implemented state accountability systems over the past few years – presenting us with a significant number of best practice ideas that we could emulate.  And while we must develop a plan geared towards our state’s needs, we don’t need to recreate the wheel and should take note of their lessons learned as we finalize our plan.

All interested stakeholders are encouraged to comment on the ESEA waiver application through various forums, including meetings and town halls.  We look forward to helping craft the final waiver request in a way that acknowledges the potential of next generation accountability systems to drive improvement throughout all schools.

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Brett Turner