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Karla Reid-Witt Testimony – ESSA – State Board of Education – March 15 2017

Karla  Reid-Witt
SBOE Testimony Regarding DC ESSA Accountability Plan
March 15, 2017

I fully support all of the SBOE recommendations regarding DC’s ESSA Accountability Plan.

I have three kids.  The first and the last are 8 years apart.  My youngest is now a 9th grader.  My middle child is a 12th grader.  My oldest is 22 years old.  All 3 attended the same middle school.  Within the 8 years between my oldest entering middle school and my youngest entering middle school, public education has completely changed.  I blame overemphasis on testing for this great downfall.  When my oldest entered public school I knew the school system was struggling but I thought, “Together, we can pull this off.”  As I look back, I liken public education to the Titanic.  When my oldest came along we knew the ship was struggling but we were still afloat, when my middle child came along the boat was at 45 degrees and when my youngest hit middle school the boat was fully vertical, she was holding on to the rail with her feet dangling in the air.

I don’t think the downfall is the teachers.  In fact, I know it isn’t.  I don’t think it is the principals or school district leaders.  I think the downfall is behavior, behavior driven by an accountability system based almost entirely on test scores.  When you design an accountability system, in effect, you create an adult behavioral plan.  Teachers, principals, system leaders and, even parents are trapped into behaving in ways which optimize numerical outcomes favored by the accountability system whether or not they feel their decisions are in the best interest of students.  The current plan does not account for this, nor does it contemplate diversity within racial, ethnic, geographical, disability or income groups.

For example, the current plan includes different growth rates goals based on race.  Let’s pretend it SY 2017-18, and I am a school district leader.  According to the current version of the plan, the percentage of Black students who must score Level 4 or higher in ELA is 25.2 % and the number of White students must who must score Level 4 or higher is 79.8%.  Black students in my school will easily meet the 25.2% threshold goal.  In fact, I could push them far beyond that goal.  However, a number of my white students are struggling.  I am worried they won’t meet the 79.8% white student goal.   Where do you think I will focus my resources?  How do you think I will behave?

We need a new plan.  I would like OSSE to wait to submit our plan until we get this right.  We need to design a child-centered plan focused on maximization of adult behavior not for the purpose of improving test scores but rather, for the purpose of achieving good life outcomes for all students.

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