State ed chiefs rethinking accountability during COVID-19

Dive Brief:

  • State education leaders should think about leveraging information from accountability systems mainly to put in place support initiatives for school improvement, according to leaders who attended a webinar Tuesday hosted by the Council of Chief State School Officers, rather than using it to make claims about school performance.
  • Missing data from the 2020-21 school year will impact accountability systems that rely on multiyear indicators, they said. And even when data is collected, its meaning and interpretation will change if states adopt models like skip-year growth, which would look at ways to calculate improvement for based on 2019 assessment data.
  • In the meantime, reverting systems to the status quo is a “bridge too far” for this year, said Chris Domaleski, associate director of the Center for Assessment. But states may have to transition back by phasing in accountability in its legacy form when the time comes.

Dive Insight:

The skip-year growth approach, Domaleski said, is “a promising model” being explored in a number of states. (Domaleski and other panelists didn’t discuss other models during the webinar.) However, even with new models, states need time to research and evaluate data collected in 2020-21 before the information is used for high-stakes purposes.

In the near term, states can collect and evaluate legacy and new data to understand the pandemic’s impact and identify areas where states and districts can partner to address challenges. Ways accountability could be modified in 2021 include: 

  • Changing indicators.
  • Revising classification categories (like focusing on entry/exit of schools most in need, but not reporting full range of letter grades).
  • Changing design decisions (like how indicators are aggregated). 
  • Revising support strategies. 
  • Adding district-level indicators and reports.
  • Changing reporting plans (like modifying reports to guard against unintended interpretations and create interpretation guidelines).

In the long term, states could focus on designing, developing, implementing and evaluating new systems that incorporate 2020-21 data. Accountability and assessment experts urged states to build in time to review “operational” data from this school year before making final decisions on how it will be used and interpreted, considering current data will be used to make important decisions around resources and support.

Experts also agree using standard accountability systems is unlikely this year, especially considering changing variables like absenteeism, graduation and attendance rates due to COVID-19. In a September letter to chief state school officers, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said the U.S. Department of Education will be open to discussions around accountability flexibilities, especially when it comes to using assessment data as part of accountability metrics.

When asked to comment, the Education Department said it had no new updates on accountability flexibilities. Domaleski said there has been no communication from the department suggesting there will be accountability waivers, but that states understand the department is open to addendums and amendments.

Juan D’Brot, senior associate at the Center for Assessment, said during the webinar he expects there to be some guidance “soon.”

But either way, data collected this year will help inform states about whether resetting the data trendline might be necessary, or if there is reason to maintain the baseline for performance and goal-setting in the long term, he added.

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