Approximately 100 parents, school district employees and other Columbus area residents gathered Monday night in Northside High School to help the state develop its plan to implement a new federal education law.
It was one of eight sessions the Georgia Department of Education is scheduled to conduct around the state to explain and receive comments and questions about the Every Students Succeeds Act.
President Barack Obama signed ESSA into law in December. ESSA replaced the No Child Left Behind Act, which was enacted in 2002 under President George W. Bush.
NCLB required states to create accountability systems for their public schools, including mandatory tests that expected all students to achieve the same academic standards. By 2010, educators had convinced enough legislators that requirement had become unrealistic, and the Obama administration joined the bipartisan effort to find ways to improve the law.
As a result, ESSA reduces the number of mandatory statewide standardized tests and increases the emphasis on college and career readiness. Instead of the federal government setting student performance targets and basing school ratings on only test scores, ESSA allows states to formulate their accountability system based on multiple measurements. Instead of one-size-fits-all intervention for struggling schools and students dictated by the federal government, ESSA allows states to develop their own interventions.
“We know that our children are very wide and diverse, and our education needs to be wide and diverse,” Georgia Superintendent Richard Woods told the crowd. “We can put not only rigor with it, but also relevance.”
Woods urges stakeholders to take advantage of the flexibility in the new federal law.
“If we create and have the same model,” he said, “then we’ve really wasted a lot of time.”
The forum’s organizers offered five focus groups: accountability, assessment, education of the whole child, federal programs and teacher/leader development. Those in attendance could participate in two of them.
Comments in the assessment focus group included:
▪ The role of the statewide tests should “equip teachers and administrators with data to make decisions.”
▪ The tests should be used as a tool to “inform parents about the progress of their children.”
▪ The tests should be “diagnostic to help teachers help their students improve, rather than just sort and identify the haves and the have-nots.”
▪ The tests should take into consideration the special needs of students. “If they could do the work in the same way, then why would they need (an Individual Education Plan)?”
▪ The test results should include an easy way to report growth. “The current system kind of penalizes people who start way behind.”
▪ The tests should be administered in May, at the end of the school year. The current testing period in April forces teachers to “race through” a whole school year’s worth of material into a shorter amount of time and leaves the last month of school as “wasted” instructional time.
▪ The Student Learning Objectives must be re-examined and aren’t a good way to assess teacher effectiveness.
▪ The length of the tests in the Georgia Milestones Assessment System “is almost cruel” for elementary school students, especially those with special needs.
Comments in the accountability focus group included:
▪ The website reporting the College and Career Ready Performance Index is difficult to navigate.
▪ “When it takes a three-hour webinar to figure out how it’s calculated, that’s a problem. When you’re judging a school’s performance, it’s going to be complicated. It’s not an easy thing to do, but I think we can do things to make the presentation of the data a little bit better so people understand what they’re looking at and how it can be used.”
▪ Students at a high-performing school “could pass the test on the first day of class, and students across town could show tremendous growth but still not pass.” So academic growth should be more significant in the CCRPI formula. “You throw those scores up there like you’re comparing apples to apples, but you’re not. The community and the public need to know those two schools are not the same.”
▪ Demographic information should be included along with the test scores.
▪ “My children go to really high-performing schools. I’m sorry, but I think the success of that school is the parents, parents making sure that they do their work. I work at a school that is not as high performing, and our teachers are working hard, and we’re not getting the same results because we don’t have the same parent support. We’re making gains; we’re just not making the big ones that make the news.” So parent participation should be part of the CCRPI formula.
▪ Attendance also should be part of the CCRPI formula. “Teachers will teach their hearts out, but if your kid isn’t there, they’re not going to learn.”
According to the GaDOE timeline, six committees will consider the comments collected during these public forums and use them to develop the state’s plan. A draft is expected to be ready by January, when the public will have time to review it and offer further comments before the state submits its final plan to the U.S. Department of Education in March.
For more information about ESSA and the state’s process to develop its plan, visit www.gadoe.org/ESSA. Folks who don’t attend a forum still can participate by emailing their comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.