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Education Experts Take a Closer Look at ESSA

The D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE) held its monthly public meeting Wednesday, Feb. 15 at the Old Council Chambers, honoring the Teacher of the Year and listening to two panels as they considered potential policy changes of tantamount importance to District schoolchildren.

The SBOE honored Elizabeth Dewhurst as the District’s 2017 Teacher of the Year. Dewhurst is a reading intervention teacher at Stuart-Hobson Middle School in Northeast.

The SBOE also heard from several panels of experts regarding the draft of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) accountability plan.

ESSA implementation begins in the 2017-18 school year. Thee federal law requires states to develop new accountability systems that show which schools need more support based on standards and assessment, identify high and low-performing schools each year, develop actions to improve the lowest performing schools and measure performance for all subgroups of students.

The plan requires annual SBOE approval and meaningful public consultation from public and charter school officials and families. A draft plan was released by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and collection of public comments will continue through February.

A special SBOE vote on the final plan is scheduled for Wednesday, March 22. It is to be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education by April 3.

The District has made some progress in education outcomes for students. Its public schools have sustained progress on state assessments in recent year and the high school graduation rate has increased steadily.

However, its Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers scores from last school year showed that only about one-quarter of D.C. students were on track for college and job readiness. Outcome gaps also exist between specific groups of students. Only 17 percent of economically disadvantaged students were on track for college and career readiness in mathematics, compared to 54 percent of their peers who are not economically disadvantaged. Only six percent of students in special education were on track.

“All parents want a high-quality school, but the sad fact of the matter is not all parents have access to a high-quality school right now,” said Ward 6 SBOE member Joe Weedon. “We need to move forward with measuring academic achievement.”

None of the panelists disagreed with the need for a citywide accountability system, but addressed concerns with the most recent draft concerning what is the more “high quality and objective data” to use in determining a school’s one-to-five-star rating.

Jeff Schmidt, a panelist and Ward 3 resident, charged that the existing individual subgroup goals are “academic racial profiling,” and called for a readjustment of subgroups based on previous levels of proficiency.

“All races aren’t treated equally in our country, therefore it’s incredibly important for us to be recognizing and acknowledging whether our system is actually serving students of all races equally,” said Ward 1 SBOE member Laura Wilson Phelan.

Other experts expressed concerns about whether academic achievement should solely represent a school’s rating, or whether an index showing a school’s well-roundedness should influence its rating.

They also discussed how matters of proficiency versus growth could cause issues with school ratings.

Upcoming ESSA community meetings will be held at Brookland Middle School (Feb. 22), Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (Feb. 27), the Department of Employment Services (Feb. 23) and the Anacostia Library (Feb.28).

The SBOE also heard from experts regarding OSSE recommendations to update citywide physical education standards which were last approved in 2008.

All panelists argued in favor of a modernized approach to physical education not centered around competition, but a comprehensive set of standards to be adopted from SHAPE America that include motor skills and emotional intelligence.

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Tatyana Hopkins – Washington Informer Contributing Writer

Tatyana Hopkins has always wanted to make the world a better place. Growing up she knew she wanted to be a journalist. To her there were too many issues in the world to pick a career that would force her to just tackle one. The recent Howard University graduate is thankful to have a job and enjoys the thrill she gets from chasing the story, meeting new people and adding new bits of obscure information to her knowledge base. Dubbed with the nickname “Fun Fact” by her friends, Tatyana seems to be full of seemingly “random and useless” facts. Meanwhile, the rising rents in D.C. have driven her to wonder about the length of the adverse possession statute of limitations (15 years?). Despite disliking public speaking, she remembers being scolded for talking in class or for holding up strangers in drawn-out conversations. Her need to understand the world and its various inhabitants frequently lands her in conversations on topics often deemed taboo: politics, religion and money. Tatyana avoided sports in high school she because the thought of a crowd watching her play freaked her out, but found herself studying Arabic, traveling to Egypt and eating a pigeon. She uses social media to scope out meaningful and interesting stories and has been calling attention to fake news on the Internet for years.

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