Suzanne Wells Testimony – ESSA – State Board of Education – March 15 2017

State Board of EducationMarch 15, 2017
Public Hearing
Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)
School Accountability Measures
Testimony of Suzanne Wells
Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization
Parent of a 6th grader at Eliot-Hine Middle School

Thank you for the opportunity to speak this evening on the Office of the State Superintendent’s (OSSE) School Accountability Measures/State Plan that has been developed to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA or the Act).  The Act provides us a welcomed opportunity to make meaningful changes in how schools are held accountable. As has been said before, “What gets measured gets done,” so how schools are measured has profound impacts on what students are taught in the classroom, on how teachers spend their time, and on how schools serving our most vulnerable students are evaluated.

There has been considerable public interest in the School Accountability Measures precisely because they are so important.  I commend the State Board of Education (SBOE) for informing our community over eight months ago about the School Accountability requirements under ESSA, and seeking our input on what we believe should be measured.  I commend the SBOE for developing a set of recommendations on OSSE’s draft plan. I commend parents in my community for taking the time to become knowledgeable about the School Accountability Measures plan, and for thoughtfully developing comments on the draft plan.

A little more than 24 hours ago, OSSE released its summary of the comments it received throughout the public comment period, and the decisions it made in the updated state plan based on that feedback.  I am sorry to say that OSSE did not begin to meaningfully address the substantive comments it received from the public or the SBOE.  OSSE’s tweaked its initial proposal in minor ways, for example, it lowered the weight afforded to testing from 80% to 70%. At first glance that might seem like a lot until you understand that virtually every public commenter asked that the weight afforded to testing be dropped to the lowest allowable by law which is 51%.

OSSE continues to want to use attendance as a proxy measure of school satisfaction, and their final plan increases by over 1% the weight going towards attendance measures.  While attendance is undoubtedly important, it’s truly hard to understand why attendance, which is compulsory for students between the ages of 5 – 18, and for which just seven unexcused absences can result in you getting a letter from the Metropolitan Police Department, can be viewed as a meaningful measure of school satisfaction.  The public repeatedly commented that school climate surveys would be better measures of school satisfaction AND would provide actionable data upon which schools could make meaningful improvements.  OSSE is afraid to use school climate surveys which they believe are not adequately tested, but they are fearless about using the PARCC test which is an imperfect measure of academic success at best.

The public asked that measures on a well-rounded education be considered.  In response, OSSE put a vague, yet to be determined, measure of “Access and Opportunities” that they want to test two years down the road under school environment and gave it a 5% weight. Worse still that 5% might also have to cover whatever is decided regarding school climate surveys.

So what does the OSSE state plan look like now for an elementary school?  We’ve got 70% being dedicated to a test given once a year that is an imperfect measure of academic success, 12.5% going to measure compulsory attendance rates, 7.5% to re-enrollment, 5% to a yet to be determined well-rounded education and school climate assessment, and 5% to an ESSA required English language learner proficiency.  I’d be hard pressed to say that sounds like a solid path forward to making educational progress for our students.

So what to do now?  I suggest that the SBOE’s work on the state plan is not done.  I urge the State Board of Education to vote NO on the OSSE State Plan.  The SBOE and OSSE have the chance to make important changes to how our schools are evaluated for the next ten years.  You have the opportunity to say we don’t want our teachers to teach to the test, that we want our students to have a well-rounded education, and that we want our students to be in school environments conducive to learning.  Don’t stop before you get to the finish line.  Vote NO on the OSSE State Plan, and do the hard work it will take to get this plan right.


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.


Andrea Tucker Testimony – ESSA – State Board of Education – March 15 2017

DC State Board of Education
Public Board Meeting
March 15, 2017
Andrea Tucker, Parent and Ward 8 Resident

Good Evening Members of the State Board of Education and thank you for allowing me to testify   here today. My name is Andrea Tucker. I am a native of DC, ward 8 resident, and a parent of three at JO Wilson Elementary School, a Title I school in ward 6. I am also the PTA president, a member of the LSAT, and a proud graduate of JO Wilson Elementary School!

I want to first thank you for your 10 recommendations on how to improve the accountability plan. Your recommendations reflected many of my concerns and those of other parents I heard at a community meeting last month where OSSE presented on the plan and took questions.

Prior to the meeting, I thought that the plan would represent a new way of thinking in DC. I thought it would be an opportunity to look at our unique city and create an accountability plan that would work for our schools and for our children. That was not what I heard there. Instead, I heard about an accountability plan that rates schools almost entirely on reading and math scores.

Making sure students have access to arts, science, social studies and technology is important to having a well-rounded education. It is something we should encourage in every school across the city. So I was glad to see your recommendations on the need to evaluate our schools based on a well-rounded education and not focus so narrowly.

We know that not all schools are equal in their course offerings now and this plan should be one way to push the system toward equity, not create wider divisions in quality. If all schools are judged by not just reading and math but other subjects, wouldn’t that be one way to encourage all schools to offer them?

I hope that you will make these changes toward a well-rounded education view now and not wait and revisit the need for it later. My concern is that once the plan goes through the approval process, we may not have a chance to revisit it. I have not seen the final plan to know whether it has been and how much has been included there.

As a proud DCPS alumni and a current parent with children in DCPS, I have been a witness to what makes a great school. While test scores are one factor I use to judge a school, it is definitely not the only one. I also care a lot about the culture and climate of the school. It is important that kids are safe and that the environment in the school is conducive to learning. I was glad to see your recommendations address culture and climate in understanding the quality of a school. I am hopeful it is now a part of the plan and not one to put off for the future. I also care about holding teachers and staff accountable for children’s learning or lack there of. No child should go to middle or high school reading on a second grade level.

I do not believe that the State Board of Education should approve this plan without having OSSE make these changes first and allowing the public to have one more opportunity to review it. We have done our part by attending the meetings or reading the plan. OSSE has not done it’s part in sharing back changes in a timely manner so I have not had time to understand any of the changes.

I will close by saying that the community meeting I attended in Ward 6 was a large gathering of parents who were diverse in every way, but we were united in our questions, concerns, and goals. That was very reassuring to know that we are all pushing in a similar direction for our children and I hope city leaders are listening and will make the necessary changes.

Thank you for your time and for inviting public testimony on this issue tonight.


Erin Thesing Testimony – ESSA – State Board of Education – March 15 2017

State Board of Education
March 15, 2017
Public Hearing
Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)
School Accountability Measures
Testimony of Erin Thesing
Fifth Grade Teacher at Maury Elementary School
Ward 1 Community Member

Thank you for the opportunity to speak this evening. I have taught in a range of elementary schools–a no-excuses turnaround charter school, a project-based learning charter school that was in Focus status, and now, a traditional public school. These experiences have proven to me that school accountability plans have a profound impact on teaching in all schools, and especially those that serve our most vulnerable students. And when high-stakes standardized tests are the primary metric, they permeate teaching and learning in harmful ways. The PARCC is an unreliable measure of our students and should not have the lion’s share of the weight in how we assess them and our schools. This is why I ask you to vote NO on OSSE’s state accountability plan.

When PARCC scores are the primary metric of school success, less time is reserved for useful assessments and meaningful learning experiences. Instead, test prep occupies classroom and planning time. Where once we gathered to study student writing and math problem solving to craft teaching points, teachers now dedicate meetings perseverating over how we can move students a few percentage points on the PARCC and reviewing the most recent predictive standardized test data.

Our students feel it acutely. This year, during predictive assessments, computers shut down mid-test. Essays that were painstakingly typed finger by finger suddenly deleted. Last year, in my second grade class, trackpads on laptops proved difficult to use by the seven-year-old fingers that tried to drag and drop a ruler to measure an apple on the screen. And then our children cried. Some even banged their head against desks saying hurtful things about themselves.

All of this for a test that provides only a small snapshot of what our children can do. Teachers know that good teaching requires useful assessments that show us what our children can do and what we need to teach next.

When I taught second grade, I created an assessment in which I observed my second graders use actual rulers and meter sticks (not one they had to drag on a computer screen) to measure the distance of a rolled toy car and then discussed their mathematical process and thinking. This revealed their process, not just their answer. I could see when they left a gap between the ruler when iterating it, or looked at the wrong side and reported centimeters instead of inches. I knew exactly what to teach next.

This year, my fifth graders read research studies and newspaper and journal articles to research the benefits and consequences of serving chocolate milk in school cafeterias. They formed arguments, developed thesis statements, found evidence to support their reasons, and acknowledged and rebutted counterarguments. They then organized this information to present panel presentations to school administrators, the PTA, cafeteria staff, and the central office nutrition team, buttoning up their uniform shirts to the top of the collar and confidently making their case. The same students who cried during our standardized testing the week before beamed as they walked away from this assessment, patting each other on the back and saying, “I had no idea we could do that! We sounded so smart!” And they did. Using a rubric, I evaluated their work against the Common Core Standards and knew exactly what to do next to strengthen their argument writing.

Creating rigorous, useful assessments that ask students to synthesize skills is the first step in the planning process. When we backwards plan we ask, “How will we know if our students can do this?” and then, “What skills do we need to teach so they they can do it?” When a computer-based test is the final assessment, we are in turn asked to teach the skills for the test. School accountability measures need to make room for assessments that provide useful information for parents and teachers to know how to best support their children. A PARCC score alone does not do this.

Relying on PARCC as our primary measure of school success is the convenient choice. Creating useful and comprehensive assessments that truly measure a student’s growth and achievement is challenging work, but they are essential to good teaching and good schools. I urge you vote NO on the proposed plan because it places too much weight on standardized testing and it will leave little room for teachers to create useful assessments that will actually guide student learning.


Is OSSE’s ESSA draft proposal reflective of your input?

The Every Student Achieves Act of 2016 (ESSA) eliminates the almost exclusive focus on test scores to rank schools, which was the cornerstone of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. ESSA allows DC to select more meaningful measures of school success. If you care about what educational standards DC’s public schools will be held accountable to in the future, you MUST make your voice heard NOW (read proposal here)!

DC’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s (OSSE) current school accountability proposal sets standardized test scores at 80% of a school’s overall rating, with the remaining 20% primarily on attendance and re-enrollment rates. It gives 0% weight to comprehensive school climate measures that are known to help schools improve. (It’s worth noting the draft proposal mentions parents 53 times, yet does not mention parent feedback that the 80% weight toward standardized test is imbalanced).

Parents and teachers have urged OSSE and the State Board of Education (SBOE) to reduce the weight of test scores to the lowest percent legally allowed—around 55% for elementary, less for high schools.

Send comments TODAY to OSSE via email ( and consider ccing State Board members (as they will vote on the plan ultimately), or fill out OSSE’s survey:
State Board of Education Members:
At-large – Ashley Carter
Ward 1 – Laura Wilson Phelan 421-4360
Ward 2 – Jack Jacobson, Chair of the Board 251-7644
Ward 3 – Ruth Wattenberg 320-7884
Ward 4 – Lannette Woodruff
Ward 5 – Mark Jones 304-7294
Ward 6 – Joe Weedon 277-9410
Ward 7 – Karen Williams, Vice President of Board 641-1926
Ward 8 – Markus Batchelor

Caryn Ernst Testimony – OSSE Performance Oversight – Feb 14, 2017

Thank you for holding this hearing and for the opportunity to weigh in on OSSE’s work to develop new school accountability measures under ESSA. OSSE has an important opportunity to shape a stronger accountability and school support system through the new federal ESSA law that will drive what our students learn and how and where they are taught for the next ten years.

OSSE’s current proposal, which keeps test scores at 80% of a school’s rating will repeat many of the same failures and negative impacts of NCLB, which over the last ten years did nothing to close the achievement gap and arguably has led to greater segregation of our schools and a narrowing of our children’s academic opportunities.  

I urge OSSE to not rush into a final plan by April 3rd, and instead to wait until the second submission window in September, and I urge OSSE to use ESSA’s flexibility to create school “Dashboards” rather than “Ratings.”

Submit Accountability Proposal in September, not April

Three critical reasons to submit proposal in September:

  1.  Take the time to gain maximum engagement from parents, educators and other stakeholders. Parents are just beginning to understand the draft plan and its impact and want more opportunity to discuss and give input to the plan. This plan is complicated and there needs to be robust discussion of its potential impacts.
  2. Take the time to work with a variety of experts on various aspects of the plan from what is best for English language learners (ELs) and students with disabilities to what are the best indicators of school success in addition to testing that are valid, reliable and can be disaggregated and differentiated.
  3. Give Chancellor Wilson an authentic opportunity to weigh in. It is unreasonable that Chancellor Wilson will not have a significant hand in shaping the new plan that he will be responsible for implementing for 49,000 students. We parents will hold him accountable for DCPS’s success. He deserves the chance to have a say in how it will be judged. OSSE released its draft plan just as the Chancellor came on board and it will be final just two months later. Chancellor Wilson needs time to understand and hear from DCPS’s 109 school leaders and educators, 8 ward education councils, numerous nonprofit partners, and tens of thousands of parents.

It is unconscionable that OSSE drafted this plan in the Chancellor’s absence and then is aiming to finish it within the first two months of his tenure. DC charter school leaders have had time to engage their stakeholders, gather experts and weigh in with OSSE since ESSA was signed in December of 2015 – over a year ago. To argue that our new DCPS Chancellor has to make the same commitments to a new system in only two months is wrong.

Use ESSA Flexibility to Create School “Dashboard” rather than “Rating”  

The ESSA legislation gives states the flexibility to create a school Dashboard, instead of, or in addition to, a school Rating. A Dashboard would present a few categories of data on each school, such as growth, proficiency, reenrollment and graduation rates, without trying to combine those categories into a final “Score” or “Rating” for each school.  

When high level data is combined to create a single rating, it obfuscates the real data behind a made up number that reflects more the percentage weight given to each data point, rather than the value of the data itself.  

The types of data collected and shared publicly under ESSA guidelines is important to guide school improvement efforts and to inform parents’ school choices. When data is combined into a final score it becomes almost meaningless for both of these purposes.  

If there is a legislative requirement to combine them into a final score, that score should only be used for federal legislative purposes, while the Dashboard of data should be used to share data with the public about school quality.

Robust, verifiable and reliable data that’s made publicly available for ALL schools on a wide-range of school performance measures would give parents, teachers, students and school leaders the shared data they need to collaborate effectively on school improvement.

The types of data that needs to be collected and made publicly available under ESSA, includes:

  1. Robust school climate assessments that provide actionable data and are administered to students, teachers and parents, like the Cal State Assessment Instrument.
  2. Teacher turnover rates and percent of teachers considered highly effective.
  3. Percent of students that leave mid-year, as well as reenrollment rates for the school.
  4. Attendance rates for both students and teachers.
  5. Number of expulsions and suspensions.
  6. Measures that would indicate the quality of science and social studies instruction, particularly in middle and high school, and
  7. List of electives and after school activities to which all students have access.

Most schools are already tracking this information in some way, it just isn’t tracked consistently or reliably and the data isn’t shared publicly. 

Taking a Dashboard approach to public education data would take the politics out of discussion of what data point has more or less meaning, and would enable an honest look at the quality and content of the education offered at ALL schools in DC.  


OSSE Performance Oversight

Every Student Succeeds Act – School Accountability Measures

February 14, 2017

Testimony by Caryn Ernst 

Parent at School Without Walls and Capitol Hill Cluster School


Helena Smolich Testimony – OSSE Performance Oversight – Feb 14, 2017

Good afternoon and thank you for hearing my testimony.  

I’m Helena Smolich, a parent at CHM@L, and a Ward 6 resident. OSSE is set to submit its new Education Plan to the Department of Education on April 3rd, 2017. The period for public comment and community meetings will close by March 3rd. If meaningful input is the goal, which it should be, I believe April 3rd is not sufficient time to gather and review fully the views of the community. I urge OSSE to postpone the submission and give some more thought and time to complete a comprehensive plan, designed to set our students up for success. Two overarching goals of the new Education plan are for DC to “become the fastest improving state and city in the nation in student achievement outcomes; and to ensure greater equity in outcomes for our students, by accelerating progress for those who are furthest behind”. While both are worthy, I wonder if these goals are in step with the larger context of our city. It’s generally acknowledged that academic outcomes are closely related to economic circumstances. So, from that perspective, is DC aiming to achieve the same kind of economic growth; to reduce and eliminate poverty and homelessness in our city, thusly facilitating academic growth of our students? In absence of such coordinated efforts, the new education plan could put unfair pressure on our teachers and students to treat the symptom, rather then the cause. 

Proposed accountability measure is composed of 80% standardized test scores, 15% school environment, and 5% English language proficiency (for K-8 grades). The school environment includes attendance, in-seat attendance, and re-enrollment. Is standardized test score the most important measure of school’s success? My family lives half a block from Brent Elementary, a highly coveted elementary school in ward 6. Rather then enrolling my sons at Brent, we make a trek across the Hill to CHM@L. And I can tell you, it is not because of the test scores. I worry that with this great emphasis on test scores, our schools will become corporatized, overly focused on their quarterly financial statements, and making the numbers look good, so to speak.  

There are so many aspects of what makes a school a good school, which could be quantified and used for overall school grade. Student satisfaction, parent satisfaction, teacher satisfaction, teacher turnover, teacher education level, expulsion rates, reported incidences of bullying (and the reduction of the same), even the number of students on the wait list can be an indicator of the school quality. None of these are part of the proposed accountability measure. 

I would like to end by reading a post from the list serve I belong to, that reflects a thought process of a parent entering the school system for the first time: “I’m curious about folks’ thoughts on some of the charter or public schools in our area that do not seem to have as high of demand ….For example, [Kipp Connect PCS] seems to be rated very highly per the Charter School Board system, but it had only a single digit waitlist. “ Is this a good school? I don’t know, but I do know parents look for far more then test scores when deciding on their children’s education. 

Thank you for your time. 


Testimony of Helena Smolich 

Parent at Capitol Hill Montessori @ Logan OSSE Performance Oversight Hearing

Committee on Education 

February 14, 2017