We address what we assess. I’ve never cared so much about how far I walked until I bought a Fitbit and saw that my friends apparently walk 15 miles a day. The same is true of schools.
Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), we began assessing our students’ math, reading, and science abilities, and test scores improved. While some of that growth may have been due to teachers teaching to the test or students adapting to standardized assessments, we should still acknowledge that having stronger data about achievement gaps has helped us build the argument for greater equity in education.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) adds a new, non-academic factor to school accountability in response to the over-emphasis on tested subjects that many schools experienced under NCLB. States have to determine what their accountability plan will include, and policy wonks are chiming in with research and cautionary tales. It seems that we can all agree that the non-academic factor should be equitable (not favoring particular student groups), mutable (able to be changed), measurable (we have to be able to put some sort of ranking or number on it), and important to student growth and learning (or else, who cares?). So far, I haven’t heard any consensus come out of the field on what this could look like.
The reality is that states may even want to consider testing out several different variables to see what the data tells them. The non-academic variable could be minimally weighted until states are sure that their data is reliable, both ensuring that schools aren’t penalized for faulty data and that schools don’t try to game the new system. States may also choose to use multiple indicators to ensure that pressure isn’t exerted on one lone factor. States also have to keep in mind that children develop at different ages. While chronic absenteeism is a problem for students of all ages, first-graders may differ in their abilities to self-regulate their emotions, based on gender and age.
A group of CORE districts in California have been testing a “dashboard” of metrics for several years, and are offering their strategy to the entire state, as documented by Stanford’s Learning Policy Institute. Forty percent of a school’s rating is based on social and emotional learning indicators, including measures of social-emotional skills; suspension/expulsion rates; chronic absenteeism; culture/climate surveys from students, staff, and parents; and English learner re-designation rates. The other 60% is based on academic performance and growth.
The reality is that our students need more than just math and reading. They need to learn how to interact with others who are different from themselves. They need to be able to creatively problem solve. They need to think critically about the world around them. Good teachers have been teaching their students these skills for decades; now we just have to make sure that all students have these enriching opportunities.