With the recent changes to federal education policy, I wanted to learn more about those changes and the impacts they'll have on P-12 education across the U.S. So, I decided to interview Emily Baranello, Vice President SAS Education Practice and Susan Gates, SAS Special Advisor on Education. Here's part one of the interview:
What is the Every Student Succeeds Act?
Susan Gates: The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law by President Obama on December 10, 2015, and is a complete overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), more commonly known as No Child Left Behind.
How will this impact the K-12 system?
Gates: The passage of ESSA has a tremendous impact on the K-12 system, especially because states now have significant flexibility to develop performance goals, accountability systems, and interventions for struggling schools. Because of that flexibility, federal mandates and incentives for designing systems, adopting academic standards, and performing teacher evaluations are now eliminated.
In what areas do you see opportunities or challenges for states?
Emily Baranello: Significant opportunities exist for each state. Being able to access across agency data will provide better information on students, programs and effectiveness. States will have access to more data and be able to develop a well-rounded, multi-factor perspective of district, school and student performance. ESSA allows states to focus on more than just a “snapshot” in time, moving beyond just test scores and graduation rates. It will help drive student success as each strives to prepare students for college, career and life.
Of course, this new state flexibility presents challenges as well. With limited resources and funds, States will need to be thoughtful in choosing the academic and non-academic measurements for their systems. At the same time, they need to provide secure access to consistent, trustworthy information – on students, measurements, grades, programs and personnel – from a wide variety of sources, while protecting student and educator privacy.
How will this change accountability and reporting on how schools and students are performing?
Gates: Although states now have the flexibility to design their own accountability systems and school report cards, they must do so within certain parameters outlined within ESSA. For example, accountability systems must now include at least three “academic” indicators – such as test scores, graduation rates, student growth and English-language proficiency – and at least one “non-academic” indicator – such as parent/teacher engagement, school climate and access to Advanced Placement courses. These indicators will be applied to and disaggregated among numerous subgroups of students, including low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities, English learners, students in foster care and homeless students.
Can accountability systems be designed to not only meet ESSA requirements, but also better inform educators, students, parents, and policy-makers?
Baranello: Absolutely. We encourage states to think through all of the indicators that give them the ability to truly understand how well schools and districts are performing. Having multiple measurements will give a clearer picture of progress and success – or identify where improvements are needed. With this holistic view, changes can be implemented and ineffective programs can be course-corrected as needed.
For example, SAS is partnering with the Connecticut Department of Education on their new “Next Generation” accountability system in which 12 indicators are included. In addition to the more traditional academic indicators, their new system also includes indicators for arts and physical education so that they can determine if there is a correlation between physical fitness and creative thinking with academic success. Also, these indicators can be sorted among subgroups of students, providing a broader and clearer understanding of how their students are progressing.
Currently each state has school report cards. What will change?
Gates: The school report cards will include much more information, allowing parents, teachers, students and policy-makers to have a richer understanding of how schools and subgroups of students within each school are actually performing. In addition to the information that will be included in the state’s accountability system, the report cards will also now include information on the progress of English-language proficiency, chronic absenteeism, the professional qualifications of educators and per-pupil expenditures.
Can accountability systems and school report cards be correlated?
Baranello: Yes they can, and we urge states to consider doing that, rather than creating siloed systems and data. Correlating the accountability system with the school report cards will give a state an even better picture of how its education system is performing. Such a holistic view will help teachers get back to the job of teaching, with a focus on their students – not just meeting the requirements for a few measures of performance. Tying the accountability system with the school report card could also illustrate correlations between student academic performance and indicators such as teacher effectiveness and the state’s per-pupil expenditures.
It was interesting to learn more about how changes to education policy cause a trickle-down effect to states and districts. But the good thing is that current technology can address those issues by consolidating data and making reports easily accessible and sharable. To learn more, and play with some sample reports yourself, check out this interactive demo. Also, check out http://www.sas.com/p12 to learn more about what SAS does for P-12 education.
Please stay tuned for the part 2 of the interview.