SCHOPP: Accountability is right thing for schools, studentsMonday, this newspaper ran a column regarding the new accountability system for South Dakota schools. I am writing today to offer a more in-depth description of the system and to explain why this change is so important.
By: Melody Schopp , Guest columnist
Monday, this newspaper ran a column regarding the new accountability system for South Dakota schools. I am writing today to offer a more in-depth description of the system and to explain why this change is so important.
States across the country have been leading the discussion around accountability for some time now. When the federal government announced that it would allow states to seek waivers from certain provisions of No Child Left Behind, it provided a window of opportunity to begin the transformation to a more meaningful system of accountability.
Chief among the flaws of NCLB is that it provides too simplistic a view of whether schools are meeting children’s needs. The current system relies too heavily on static test scores. It does not recognize student growth or improvement from year to year. And, NCLB requires teachers to be “highly qualified” but does not focus on the effectiveness of teachers and leaders in improving instruction and helping students learn at higher levels.
So, how will the new system be better?
First and foremost, the new system will consider multiple indicators of performance. The new accountability model is centered on a 100-point School Performance Index. The SPI consists of five key indicators — each of which accounts for a certain number of the total points. By using multiple measures of performance, we broaden the scope of our view and provide a better overall picture of how schools are performing.
The index will be phased in over the next several years, to allow time to fully study and find appropriate measurements for several of the indicators.
The five key indicators vary depending on whether the school is an elementary/middle school or a high school. They are as follows:
1) Student Achievement
2) Academic Growth OR High School Completion
3) Attendance OR College and Career Readiness
4) Teacher and Principal Effectiveness
5) School Climate
The Student Achievement and Attendance indicators are used in the current accountability system. So, let me focus on the changes.
Currently, schools are required to meet a certain bar for student proficiency on the state exam. There is no allowance for those making significant progress toward reaching that bar. The new Academic Growth indicator will give credit for academic progress.
The High School Completion indicator is another positive change. Under the new system, schools will get credit for students who graduate, whether they do so in four years or whether it takes longer. The new system also recognizes students who earn GEDs. These points will be balanced against points for meeting the federal definition of graduation, which does not give credit in these cases.
The College and Career Readiness is a new indicator and will be based on ACT participation and scores.
The fourth and fifth indicators require significant attention and work. That work is being done by dedicated educators across the state who are part of work groups addressing teacher and principal effectiveness and school climate.
Based on these multiple indicators, the state will identify schools that are the most in need of attention. Targeted support and interventions will be aimed at those schools to assist them in raising student achievement levels within their buildings.
Significant change takes time. The approval of South Dakota’s waiver by the U.S. Department of Education was just a first step.
Do we have much work to do on the new accountability system? Yes. Are we going to take our time and phase pieces of the system in, in order to be successful? Absolutely. The work is too important not to. Do we have significant hurdles ahead? Yes, but those hurdles should not stop us from doing what’s right for the schools and the students of this state.
Dr. Melody Schopp, of Pierre, is South Dakota’s secretary of education.