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Va. Department of Education begins developing new accountability system

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Va. Department of Education begins developing new accountability system

Sep 18, 2023 | 12:04 am ET
By Nathaniel Cline
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Va. Department of Education begins developing new accountability system
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President Grace Creasey listening to a presentation at the Board of Education's business meeting on Sept. 14, 2023. (Nathaniel Cline/Virginia Mercury)

Following criticism by Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration, Virginia’s Department of Education will begin to develop a new system for tracking public schools’ and students’ performance.

A June report from Virginia Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera and Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Coons to the General Assembly noted that most states have both an accreditation system, which assesses whether schools are meeting all requirements laid out in state laws and regulations, and an accountability system, which provides “timely and transparent information on student and school performance.” 

“Virginia’s current accreditation system combines these two systems into one system as a single accreditation system, limiting transparency into how schools maintain compliance and recognize student achievement independent of each other,” the report found. It went on to recommend that Virginia develop “a distinct, stand-alone accountability system” that provides information about how each K-12 school is preparing students.  

Virginia’s current system focuses on accreditation and measures schools based on not only academic achievement, performance gaps, student attendance and graduation and dropout rates, but also factors like building safety, student-teacher ratios and licensure. Schools are then labeled “accredited,” “accredited with conditions” or not accredited. 

The Virginia Department of Education has said the current system is unclear and should be revised to address recent declines in student performance in core subjects such as math and reading.

“This is an important move to show transparently how schools are growing children, how they’re meeting achievement measures and how they’re readying kids for the future,” said Coons.

On Thursday, the Board of Education voted to direct the department to develop two different measures to track academic performance: an achievement index and an overall school rating.  

The index measure would provide a picture of a school’s achievement level based on students’ performance on assessments, with different levels of performance like basic, proficient or advanced receiving different weights.

Scott Brabrand, executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, said Thursday the index “allows schools to count the achievement of every child and it also allows teachers to focus on every child in their classroom, not just focusing on those on the bubble for proficiency.” 

Va. Department of Education begins developing new accountability system
The former John B. Cary Elementary School in Richmond was renamed Lois Harrison-Jones Elementary School in 2023. (Mechelle Hankerson/Virginia Mercury)

A second or “summative” measure would provide a school rating based on nine factors that would include not only student performance but also graduation completion and dropout rates. That metric would be similar to those used in states like North Carolina and Maryland and could take the form of A-F grades, stars or another ranking.

While the superintendents association is also supporting the summative measure, the Virginia School Boards Association expressed concern that it could negatively impact a school division’s ability to recruit teachers or obtain needed resources.

“Whether it is at A-F, a series of stars or descriptive labels, VSBA is concerned that unless the rating system is used to drive resources, and supports students and schools in challenging environments, the label will do more harm to schools and increase the likelihood of a school not making needed strides and academic achievement,” said JoWanda Rollins-Fells, a member of the group’s board. 

Board member Anne Holton, an appointee of Gov. Terry McAuliffe, said she needed more information about whether the summative measure would contribute to residential segregation before supporting the proposed accountability rating system. Some researchers have argued that poor school ratings increase the likelihood of parents moving their children to private or charter schools, leading to a decrease in funding a public school receives from the state.

“I think that would be an important factor for us to consider as we move forward,” Holton said.

Last fall, the previous board began reviewing the state’s current accountability system to address Virginia students’ declining scores on state and national assessments. 

Since then, Youngkin, who has been vocal in his criticism of the state’s current accreditation system, has appointed three new board members. Currently, eight of its nine seats are filled with his appointees.

Board President Grace Creasey, one of Youngkin’s appointees, on Thursday said the board had discussed accreditation and accountability for a year because of the “complexity” and “lack of transparency” of the state systems, which she said don’t effectively measure student performance.

“We’re really starting to put the skeleton of this project together in order to get to a very robust end goal, and so I’m very happy [with] the guardrails that we’ve created today to inform our work further as we move forward,” she said after the meeting.

Kimberly Bridges, an assistant professor of educational leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the new approach to accountability “will be helpful to schools, teachers, leaders, students, as well as parents.”

Bridges, who served on the working group that helped craft the June recommendations, said she had hoped the board would have considered in more depth the degree to which achievement measures should prioritize proficiency or growth. The working group had urged the board to include both factors in any measures.

Creasey said growth measures may not be informative for parents, while proficiency measures would allow direct conversations about achievement between administrators, teachers and parents. 

On Thursday, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents and Virginia School Boards Association requested the board delay voting on any of the new accountability measures to give the public time to review the options. 

Creasey, however, said the development process will last a year and allow public comment and stakeholder input opportunities. 

“The process had to start somewhere,” she said.

An updated timeline calls for VDOE to collect data on the indicators included in the new accountability system from August 2024 to July 2025, and implement the system in August 2025. The board would vote again on the proposal next summer.