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ESSA’s Opportunities to Rethink Accountability for Student-Centered Learning

October 12, 2016 by

ESSAThis post originally appeared at iNACOL on September 29, 2016. 

For the first time in decades, states have the opportunity to engage communities in redefining student success and reimagining the future of education.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) opens up flexibility for states to design next generation accountability systems that support student learning. States now have a historic opportunity to rethink the purpose, role and design of their accountability systems, reframing them for continuous improvement of student learning toward new, more meaningful definitions of success through data-rich learning environments.

A New Definition of Student Success

State leaders should start by engaging and listening to diverse stakeholders from across the state, including teachers, students, parents, families, school leaders, community leaders, civil rights groups, philanthropic groups and business groups to chart a new vision for K-12 education. They should answer the question: “What do students need to be able to know and do to be successful beyond high school?”

In crafting a new state plan for ESSA, states can start by rethinking what success means for the whole child, for the future of their communities, for meaningful participation in the economy and in a global context.

Redefining student success—determining what we want students to know and be able to do upon graduating—should be the starting point for creating a coherent education system. Only after states build this broad consensus of what constitutes student success, should they determine what to measure for accountability.

Driving a new definition of success is crucial to developing coherent system improvements that are built around learning—including instructional shifts, systems of assessments, expanded pathways and better learning environments connected to communities and to the real world. Collaboration and community engagement needs to be sustained and ongoing rather than a one-time activity.

Multiple Measures in Accountability Systems

ESSA requires states to use multiple measures in accountability systems, including: grade level proficiency, English language proficiency, graduation rates, and at least one state-selected “measure of school quality.”

States could include additional indicators to encourage schools to focus on multiple factors of school quality, support continuous improvement and to reward and highlight schools that are meeting the needs of each student.

States could shift toward a “balanced scorecard” approach, through multiple measures of the key factors for student success and for school quality. Other measures states could consider include performance levels, extended-year cohort graduation rates, student and teacher engagement, advanced coursework enrollment or non-cognitive competencies.

States will want to consider:

  • Which data does the state need for accountability?
  • Which data does the district need?
  • Which data does the school need? and
  • What information do families and the community need?

This approach tracks strategic outcomes along with processes and inputs to provide valuable feedback to individuals at all levels of an organization. States may want to use some of these measures, especially non-cognitive competencies, in low stakes ways that support continuous improvement.

Accountability Systems to Promote Equity and Identify Student Supports

With the passage of ESSA, states and localities should rethink how accountability can ensure quality, equity and excellence. They should examine how systems of assessments will support continuous improvement. A forward-thinking accountability system should align with student-centered learning to provide success for each and every student.

Next generation accountability increases transparency so stakeholders can see how well students are being educated. It promotes continuous improvement of learning and systems, and ensures students advance at a sufficient pace to graduate on-time—ready for success in college and careers.

As states use next generation accountability to promote this improvement, they can catalyze rapid closure of achievement gaps between student subgroups and build local educators’ capacity to address student needs.

Finally, in order to lead to lasting, systemic transformation, next generation accountability should be coupled with state policies to create space for innovation and new models of personalized, competency-based teacher preparation and credentialing (such as competency-based licensure that includes portable recognitions of mastery like stacked micro-credentials or digital badges). This will equip educators with the skills and flexibility needed to successfully implement student-centered learning.

State Policy Recommendations

  • Collaborate with a diverse set of stakeholders from across the state, in a sustained and meaningful way, to develop a state accountability plan under ESSA to:
    • Redefine what success means for the whole child, and align the elements of accountability to the new definition of student success. This process should identify metrics to track and support student growth toward college- and career-readiness and include multiple measures of student learning;
    • Determine how data will be reported and used at each level to support continuous improvement and to provide timely, differentiated supports to meet the needs of each student, such as real-time data dashboards and report cards;
    • Describe the role and goals of the accountability system. This process should outline how and when students and schools receive supports and interventions and how the system will celebrate and reward success; and
    • Delineate how the state will target resources to the students and schools who need the most support.
  • Prioritize personalized, competency-based learning in school improvement strategies.
  • Explain how the state will build educator capacity to strengthen teaching and leadership for continuous improvement of student learning.

This is the fourth blog in a series to highlight state policy recommendations to create a foundation for sustainable, systemic change that will dramatically increase personalized, competency-based learning opportunities for all students.

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