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.