Virginia works on finalizing new school accountability system

The Virginia Board of Education made a significant move on Friday to clarify how schools will be assessed and student performance gauged to enhance the allocation of state resources.

By the superintendent’s recommendation, the board endorsed four performance descriptors: “Distinguished,” “On Track,” “Off Track,” and “Needs Intensive Support.”

Schools labeled as “distinguished” surpass the state’s expectations for growth, achievement, and readiness, while those categorized as needing intensive support “significantly” fail to meet any state expectations.

The terms “on-track” and “off track” indicate whether schools are meeting or not meeting expectations. However, questions have arisen regarding the origins of these terms, the benchmarks set, and the explanations behind the labels.

Under the proposed strategy, Virginia will commence data collection for the new performance framework in August, with results expected during the 2025-26 academic year.

Board President Grace Creasey, appointed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin, emphasized that further efforts will be made to refine the descriptions as the revision of the state’s accreditation system progresses.

“The intention here is transparency and comprehension not just for school personnel or education professionals but also for parents and families,” stated Creasey on Friday. “While determining the main categories, these descriptors are still a work in progress at this stage.”

During the earlier stages of revising the accreditation system, the board explored two distinct measures for tracking academic performance: an achievement index and an overall school rating, sparking concerns about their impact on underperforming schools and teacher recruitment efforts.

Since April, various stakeholders, including teachers, parents, students, and education leaders, have endorsed the use of category descriptors over an A-F rating scale.

The category descriptors are part of a broader initiative by the Youngkin administration to revamp the existing accountability system, which assesses schools based on academic achievement, performance gaps, attendance, graduation rates, and other factors like school safety and student-teacher ratios.

Schools are categorized as accredited, accredited with conditions, or not accredited based on these assessments.

The current system has been criticized for its lack of clarity and failure to address declines in student performance in subjects such as math and reading.

The administration’s plan involves splitting the state’s accreditation system into two components: an accreditation system to determine compliance with state laws and regulations and an accountability system to provide transparent information on student and school performance.

Under the new system, schools will be evaluated based on student success measured by subject mastery and academic growth.

Stakeholders and the board hold differing views on the weight factors used to calculate the overall score for each school level.

Earlier discussions centered on the importance of “mastery” in ensuring students comprehend concepts thoroughly before progressing to the next grade level. Some suggest that “mastery” and “growth” should hold equal weight.

For elementary schools, the performance score comprises 65% mastery, 25% growth, and 10% readiness; middle schools allocate 60% to mastery, 20% to growth, and 20% to readiness; and high schools assign 50% to mastery, 35% to readiness, and 15% to graduation.

VDOE staff indicated that the performance descriptors would complement the three federally mandated support and improvement identification categories: Comprehensive, Targeted, and Additional Targeted, aimed at providing assistance to specific student groups in need.

“This initiative aims to offer a comprehensive and transparent overview to the public regarding schools’ performance across all system indicators,” stated Anne Hyslop, All4Ed’s policy development director.

Last year, Hyslop collaborated with Chad Aldeman, the Edunomics Lab policy director at Georgetown University, at the department’s request to revamp the accreditation system.

Board member Anne Holton, representing former Democratic governors Terry McAuliffee and Ralph Northam, was the sole dissenter concerning the recommendation acceptance, citing insufficient information on the descriptors.

“There are several crucial decisions, including significant ones on delineating boundaries, that remain pending even as we implement the system in six weeks,” mentioned Holton, expressing concerns about potential unintended consequences on educators, families, and vulnerable students.

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