Source: White House webcast.
President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act during a White House ceremony on Dec. 11, 2015, flanked by Senators Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., left, and Patty Murray, D-Wash., right.

On an issue of direct relevance for California, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., on Wednesday harshly criticized U.S. Secretary of Education John King, Jr. for proposing regulations that will require states to come up with a “single summative rating” for schools and districts.

The word “summative” in this context means a rating that summarizes in an accessible form the progress or lack of it that a school or district makes over the course of  a year.

California is moving towards establishing a new accountability system made up of multiple measures, in place of the state’s previous Academic Performance Index, which assigned schools a single “summative” number based on test scores. This new approach has been championed by Gov. Jerry Brown, and is currently being implemented by the California Department of Education and State Board of Education.

But under the draft regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Education to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act approved by Congress last December, states would be required to come up with a single rating for their schools. That would appear to put California on a collision course with the federal government, at least on this issue.

Alexander, who was Secretary of Education under former President George H.W. Bush, took King on at a hearing of the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee in Washington D.C.

“You’ve invented out of whole cloth a so-called summative rating system that’s nowhere in the law that would essentially require all states to come up with an A through F system for all of their schools based primarily on test scores on federally mandated tests in math and reading,” Alexander told King.

Responding to Alexander, King affirmed that the regulations do call for a single rating, but mainly as a way to identify struggling schools that are in need of additional support. He said that states could take a “variety of approaches” in constructing a single rating system.  They could use an A-F system or a numerical index.  The could also use a “categorical system,” which he said is required by the new law.

He did not spell out what he meant by a categorical system, but it presumably is one that places a school or district in a category such as “very low performing,” “low performing,” “high performing,” or “very high performing.”

“All we require is that they (the states) have some methodology by which they can identify those schools, and clearly communicate about the performance of their schools with the public,” King said.

Alexander did not seem happy with that response. “I’d like you to think about where in the law you get the authority to provide for a single summative rating,” he said.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who with Alexander played a crucial role in getting the new legislation passed, was more sympathetic to King’s position. She noted that the new law requires states to use multiple measures in assessing how schools are doing. That’s along the lines of what California is doing. But the new law also requires states to identify the 5 percent lowest-performing schools, which would seem to require a single rating.

California’s State Board of Education will consider how to respond to the draft regulations at its next meeting on July 13-14 in Sacramento. The public comment period on the regulations runs until Aug. 1.

 

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  1. Michael Strait 12 months ago12 months ago

    I disagree with the conclusion that requiring states to identify the 5 percent lowest-performing schools requires a single rating. This is the easiest conclusion to reach of course, but not necessary. The requirement could be met by identifying the lowest performing schools on each measure in a system of multiple measures (identifying those that are in the lowest 5% on each interval-scale measure and in the lowest category of categorical measures), and then if necessary … Read More

    I disagree with the conclusion that requiring states to identify the 5 percent lowest-performing schools requires a single rating. This is the easiest conclusion to reach of course, but not necessary. The requirement could be met by identifying the lowest performing schools on each measure in a system of multiple measures (identifying those that are in the lowest 5% on each interval-scale measure and in the lowest category of categorical measures), and then if necessary identifying a lowest overall category based not on a single rating but on being in the lowest group on all (or half or 2/3, or 3/4, etc.) of all measures.

  2. Hans Schroeder 12 months ago12 months ago

    Once bitten, twice shy. The federal hand upon all local public schools since the inception of NCLB has brought chaos and dishonor upon teachers and schools. As a former principal, I will never forget having to hand scripted lesson programs over to my teachers all because we were not meeting the moving federal bar resulting in the "school in need of improvement" sticker affixed to our school and nearly all of the other … Read More

    Once bitten, twice shy. The federal hand upon all local public schools since the inception of NCLB has brought chaos and dishonor upon teachers and schools. As a former principal, I will never forget having to hand scripted lesson programs over to my teachers all because we were not meeting the moving federal bar resulting in the “school in need of improvement” sticker affixed to our school and nearly all of the other schools in our state. These teachers were insulted, demoralized, bewildered, and fed-up. Many of my most talented teachers left. All that mattered was our annual high-stakes standardized test score, and the commercial scripted programs that were supposedly the golden key to winning the test score wars. What rubbish! While employers were calling for innovative, creative, deeper thinking and soft-skill savvy students to fill the jobs of today, we were programming students like they were robots so to satisfy a punitive federal mandate. My hope is that everyone with an interest in the future of our next generation of school-aged children will push back HARD against any and all federal mandates before considering them for acceptance. Let’s not be fooled again!

    Replies

    • Bruce William Smith 12 months ago12 months ago

      Well said, Hans. I haven't forgotten sitting in a similar setting in a struggling school that really was in need of improvement; but I also haven't forgotten leading a small chartered school organized by parents trying to flee the heavy hand of Washington, D.C. with its mandated testing. We all need to be rid of these do-gooders in Washington and Sacramento who mean to help kids who need it, but who fundamentally don't know what … Read More

      Well said, Hans. I haven’t forgotten sitting in a similar setting in a struggling school that really was in need of improvement; but I also haven’t forgotten leading a small chartered school organized by parents trying to flee the heavy hand of Washington, D.C. with its mandated testing. We all need to be rid of these do-gooders in Washington and Sacramento who mean to help kids who need it, but who fundamentally don’t know what they’re doing, and without whom our kids would have better futures if they simply decided to do something else with their lives!

  3. Bruce William Smith 12 months ago12 months ago

    Decentralization needs to continue, since both our federal government and our states do not give reason for confidence in the American state schooling system, and therefore families with choices should continue to opt out of the schools that President Obama and his education secretary would like to force us to go to, since they have been striving to continue with the previous federal failures, No Child Left Behind and their extralegal waivers, in their execution … Read More

    Decentralization needs to continue, since both our federal government and our states do not give reason for confidence in the American state schooling system, and therefore families with choices should continue to opt out of the schools that President Obama and his education secretary would like to force us to go to, since they have been striving to continue with the previous federal failures, No Child Left Behind and their extralegal waivers, in their execution of the “Every Student Succeeds” Act, which will continue to leave young Americans behind their peers in better, more locally governed educational jurisdictions like those in Singapore and Switzerland.