A screenshot of the DC School Report Card dashboard state board members proposed
A screenshot of the DC School Report Card dashboard state board members proposed

The D.C. State Board of Education (DC SBOE) recently approved a resolution that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) will take into consideration as it mulls how to revamp the DC School Report Card, a tool District parents use to determine where to enroll their children.

One aspect of the DC School Report Card that incited debate among state board members concerned the STAR rating system which served as a primary indicator of a school’s performance. Depending on how students scored on standardized tests, their school’s rating could fall anywhere between one and five stars.

While schools that score in the bottom five percent qualify for dedicated federal funding, other schools with low STAR ratings often find themselves without similar support. Opponents of the STAR rating system, like Ward 8 DC SBOE Representative Dr. Carlene Reid, argued that it overwhelmingly placed Ward 8 schools in the bottom five percent by not highlighting indicators of growth that painted more of a holistic picture of school performance.

In emphasizing her support for dismantling the summative STAR rating, Reid said she relied on what parents and teachers in her community told her, even as interest groups attempted to convince SBOE members that parents valued the simplicity of the STAR rating.

“We wanted something meaningful for our students, [so] I pulled out what families said they valued, like academic growth, school climate, length of teachers’ time on staff, languages spoken in the building [and] not the current emphasis on testing proficiency,” Reid said. “I saw clearly what Ward 8 values.”

A Question of How to Rate Schools

In addition to dismantling the STAR rating, DC SBOE’s resolution, approved on Jan. 19, recommended that the DC School Report Card dashboard should clearly outline the following indicators of school performance: school climate, equitable school growth, well-rounded education, teacher retention, experience and diversity and proficiency.

If OSSE follows through on these recommendations, parents visiting the report card dashboard will be able to choose indicators of interest to see where District schools measure in those areas. They will also be able to rely on measurements of student growth and secondary indicators, including student safety, reading growth and school programming.

While they joined their state board colleagues in unanimously passing the entire resolution, DC SBOE members Jacque Patterson (At-large) and Jessica Sutter (Ward 6) opposed the removal of the summative STAR rating. Teachers watching the Jan. 19 proceedings drew parallels between Patterson and Sutter’s viewpoints and that of Democrats for Education Reform – DC who, in a testimony about the STAR rating, advocated for more equitable measures within it.

Sutter remained steadfast in her assessment, saying parents rely on the summative rating for a quick overview of school performance. She added, in response to concerns about bias, the state board should’ve explored changes to the STAR rating that benefitted at-risk student populations.

“The current rating unfairly penalizes schools that serve a lot of students with disabilities. But if we had a different rating that measured academic growth, it would’ve been a way to help parents glance at the school report card and see if schools are serving students well,” said Sutter who recently became DC SBOE president.

 “I’m skeptical that getting rid of the rating [in totality] would change things. It’s important for OSSE to collect data on how the changes influence parents using the tool. We won’t know if [the change] does what the board wanted,” Sutter said.

Recommendations Several Months in the Making

If OSSE follows through on the state board’s recommendations, they would enter a process through which the federal government approves the changes. 

State board members have discussed many of the recommendations over the last few years. Community engagement, which has happened since before the pandemic, has most recently involved the collection of survey data from teachers, administrators, parents and community members. 

In the parent/community survey, more than 80 percent of the 567 participants identified as parents. Black people accounted for 32 percent of parents while white people accounted for 55 percent. Ward 7 and 8 each had representation of 10 percent among survey respondents, which in part compelled their SBOE representatives to rely more heavily on input they gathered at community meetings. 

Among teachers and administrators, the majority surveyed either worked at the elementary level or in a District public school. As Ward 3 DC SBOE Representative Ruth Wattenberg explained, staff members at District schools often struggled to escape the pressure of ensuring students scored high on tests to improve their STAR rating. 

Overall, Wattenberg said the data provides enough insight to trigger changes within the DC School Report Card. 

“I am very hopeful that OSSE will take our recommendations seriously. This was a unanimous vote, even with [the debate] about the summative rating,” Wattenberg said. “This was a strong message that poor, misleading and biased information is not helping. It’s pushing schools to pressure staff to push testing and do test prep. It’s not healthy for our schools and students.”

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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