Op-Ed by State School
Superintendent Richard Woods: It’s time to lift up, instead of label, our
‘Our students – and
schools – are more than a score’
Frick, 404-463-4246, firstname.lastname@example.org
GaDOE on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @GeorgiaDeptofEd
by State School Superintendent Richard Woods:
if the success of your child – or your grandchild, niece or nephew, or
next-door neighbor – was summed up entirely by their performance on a single
there are some who want Georgia’s accountability system for schools, the
College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI), to function that way,
relying overwhelmingly on students’ scores on a standardized test, instead of
multiple indicators that capture the opportunities schools are providing for
people reading this may not realize the Georgia Department of Education
(GaDOE), which I lead, is not the sole decision-maker regarding the CCRPI.
There is excessive authority over the process delegated to entities outside the
GaDOE (which is the only Georgia education agency overseen by a leader elected
by, and directly accountable to, the citizens of our state).
has led to a CCRPI that, while significantly improved, still does not line up
with the feedback we’ve consistently gotten from parents, business leaders, and
schools themselves – or with my 25 years of experience in education.
time that I make it very clear what my position is regarding the CCRPI.
role of assessments in education
most agree tests have a role in K-12 education, even more agree that they
shouldn’t be the single determining factor of a student’s or school’s success. Is
this student engaged in their work? Are they showing up to school? Are
opportunities – like fine arts, career tech, and accelerated coursework – being
made available to them? Are they participating in class, completing projects,
and learning to work as a team? These factors matter, too.
principle that performance on high-stakes tests does not represent the sum of a
child’s success is common sense – yet, sadly, that common sense wanes when
deciding how to hold our districts and schools accountable.
work to improve the CCRPI
the passage of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states were
afforded the opportunity to bring students, parents, educators, business
partners, and community leaders together to craft a new plan for education.
that spirit, we convened stakeholder feedback sessions across the state,
conducted surveys, and created six working groups and a state advisory
committee to draft the plan. Georgia’s Accountability
ESSA working group held 13 meetings and spent countless hours
discussing the nuts and bolts of the CCRPI.
work was challenging but their efforts paid off with some big improvements. In
the past, attendance was set at six or more days (including excused absences)
before a school started getting penalized; the group adopted the more
realistic, national definition for chronic absenteeism.
added a new indicator for elementary and middle schools that recognized the
importance of access to opportunities like fine arts, world language, physical
education, and career tech (opportunities that had been stripped from many of
our schools during the overly narrow reforms of No Child Left Behind and Race
to the Top, as well as the economic downturn of the Great Recession). I applaud
the group’s work and efforts, and the work of our Accountability team at the GaDOE.
100-point scale and letter grades are putting a ceiling on success
biggest disappointment, following all of the working group’s efforts, was the
realization that the improvements they could make were restricted by the fact
that GaDOE does not have full authority to make improvements to the metric.
though ESSA didn’t mandate it, and though no state with top scores on the
assessment uses it, state law required a 100-point scale. That scale could then
easily and “logically” be used by others to assign letter grades to schools.
have trumpeted the 100-point scale mandate because of shallow claims that it’s
easy for the public to understand. Notice, though, that it also produces what
those proponents wanted all along – a way to rank and label schools, instead of
having deeper conversations. For those who don’t believe in public education,
it sets up a system where a district or school has 89 ways to look bad and only
11 ways to look good (let’s face it – everybody has an expectation of an “A”
reality, the “simple” 100-point scale provides limited information for the
public. What’s the difference between an 83 school and a 79 school? One is
“better” than the other. Though the elements of the metric can be good and
pure, the powers that be can manipulate the weights to form a pre-determined
fate for the large majority of our schools.
manipulate the feelings of public comfort and familiarity by using a 100-point
scale, but the simplicity and clarity of that scale have been vastly
overstated. Look at states like Louisiana and Florida – which, interestingly
enough, have been the initial drivers of education reforms later pushed by
Georgia policymakers (think Louisiana’s “Recovery School District,” or
Florida’s heavy emphasis on test-based accountability). Schools in those states
can earn a lower percentage of available points to achieve the same letter
grades schools have to work so hard for in Georgia.
see a letter grade but according to a
UGA study, many Georgia schools would actually rank a full grade
level higher using Louisiana’s and Florida’s accountability systems.
Percentages are based on the available points on the state’s scale. In other
words, what proportion of the available points is needed to obtain the letter
grade. Georgia has a 0-100 scale, Louisiana has a 0-150 scale and Florida
scales range from 800-1000 depending on schooling levels.
likely will use the talking point of “high expectations” to sidestep any deep
discussion about these facts, but we should have realistic and fair
expectations for schools – especially when these scores could be used to make
high-stakes decisions, like taking over schools, firing staff, removing
leadership and diverting funding.
fact is, when Georgia is compared to other states, scores at face value are
compared across state lines and no one gets into the details of the
calculations. Business and industry and realtors do not know the indicators or
weights of Georgia’s accountability system or those of surrounding states – but
I bet you they compare the scores as if the calculations were exactly the same
across state lines. With the false claim of rigor, our state is losing its
time to prioritize opportunities AND outcomes
Georgians agree that our students – and schools – are more than a score. But
even with positive improvements, we still have a metric that gives roughly 80
percent of its weight to high-stakes, end-of-the-year tests, with only the 20-some
percent left over given to opportunities like fine arts, world languages,
physical education, career pathways, dual enrollment, AP/IB, work-based
learning/apprenticeships, attendance and graduation rates. These are things
students, parents, business and industry, and educators value.
of the most prestigious schools or universities. They likely market their
experienced teachers, small class sizes, and catalog of opportunities –
high-stakes test scores are a footnote. However, for Georgia’s public schools
and districts, the state has the reverse approach. Why?
have a higher expectation
has a place – but it must be a proper place. We are seeking out ways to ensure
Georgia’s assessment system truly informs teaching and learning, but we must
give equal priority to reducing the number of high-stakes tests, and the
emphasis on high-stakes testing in the accountability system, or our efforts
will not produce results.
public – students, parents, and communities – should know how their districts
and schools are performing, but we need a wider and deeper measurement of
performance that paints a full and true picture, not one capped by a 100-point
scale or oversimplified by a letter grade.
graduation rates are rising, along with our ACT, SAT, AP, and NAEP scores. We
were recently ranked 11th in the nation for K-12 achievement. Combine that with
expanded opportunities for students – in the fine arts, STEM and STEAM, career
and technical education, agriculture, and computer science – and it’s clear
Georgia’s K-12 public schools are succeeding. We deserve an accountability
metric that is not disconnected from these realities and reflects the success
we are seeing.
Georgia Department of Education must finally be given the flexibility and
authority to make true changes and act in the best interest of our kids. Our
students – and schools – deserve a fair measure of their success.
mission is to prepare children for life, not a test.