Alexander: The 4 Areas of Proposed Accountability Regulation Most in Need of Overhaul

Urges Education Secretary King to announce fixes soon to the proposed timeline for implementing state accountability systems

Posted on July 14, 2016

 “I am focused on four areas of the regulation that seem to the most in need of overhaul: the timeline for new state accountability systems, the summative rating system, the requirement for evidence of state academic standards, and the return to high stakes federal tests.” 

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 14 – Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today identified four areas most in need of overhaul in the Department of Education’s first proposed rule on the new law to fix No Child Left Behind – the timeline for new state accountability systems, the summative rating system, the requirement for evidence of state academic standards, and the return to high stakes federal tests.

On timeline: “The law requires states to ‘establish a State-determined methodology’ to identify schools ‘beginning with school year 2017-2018,’ but the proposed regulation requires states to start identifying new schools for support and improvement ‘by the beginning of’ the 2017–2018 school year,” Alexander said. “That timeline would discourage states from doing exactly what we hope they would do, which is develop and implement new accountability systems.” 

Under the department’s proposed timeline for implementing new accountability systems, “if states were to create new accountability systems and cram them down the throats of schools and teachers and parents, then we might create the same sorts of backlash because there wouldn’t be the opportunity to buy in. So you either cram it down their throats and risk a backlash, or you don’t make any changes at all and keep doing what you’re doing,” Alexander said.

 

“That’s exactly what my fear is,” said Dr. Gail Pletnick, a school district superintendent in Arizona, and a witness at today’s hearing.

The witnesses at the hearing today indicated that their concerns about the timeline in the regulation would be alleviated by what Education Secretary John King said he would consider at a previous hearing, that “we are open to comment on the timeline and open to adjusting that timeline. The key question that states need to address as they provide comment is in which schools will they provide additional support in 17—18? Would that be the same schools as in 16—17?”

Alexander said: “He’s indicated he may agree with you, so I’m going to urge him that, if he does, to go ahead and let everybody know so you can make your plans.”

On summative rating systems: “The law says it is up to the states to annually measure and differentiate all public schools based on a series of indicators beyond just the federally required math and reading tests. But the proposed rule invents out of whole cloth a requirement that these accountability systems result in each school receiving a single summative score, such an A through F grading system for schools. That is not in the law.”

On state academic standards: “The law no longer requires a state to ‘demonstrate’ that they have adopted challenging standards—they simply have to ‘assure’ the secretary they adopted those standards,” Alexander said. “Dr. Pletnick in her testimony questions whether the proposed rule requirement that the state ‘provide evidence at such time and in such manner specified by the Secretary that the State has adopted challenging academic content standards… would ‘equate to the ability of the federal government to reject the state developed standards.”

On high stakes federal tests: “The heart of the new law is the end of federal test-based accountability. We kept the 17 tests but we moved to states and classrooms what to do about the tests. The proposed regulation, however, seems to restore those high stakes mandates,” Alexander said. “Federally-mandated tests and academic indicators would again become the primary means used to determine whether a school is succeeding or not. Because once a school is identified as needing improvement it’s basically always going to need to be in need of improvement unless it shows significant progress on federally mandated tests and other academic indicators.

The chairman’s full remarks are below:

This is our fifth oversight hearing on the law to fix No Child Left Behind.

There’s not a lot of need to elaborate on what we’ve established in the first four hearings. The president of the National Education Association said that a dark cloud was lifted in December. And there was a broad consensus that was true among people who work with children in schools. The president called the new law a Christmas miracle. It had broad support from governors to teachers unions to school superintendents, chief state school officers. And my hope is that restoring responsibility to states and classroom teachers it inaugurates a new era of innovation and excellence in student achievement.

Gone are the federal common core mandate, the “Mother May I” conditional waivers, the highly qualified teacher definitions from Washington, the Washington mandates on teacher evaluation mandates, gone are the federal school turnaround models, federal test-based accountability and federal definitions of adequate yearly progress.

The new law placed some guardrails around state accountability systems, but also placed some guardrails on the secretary, who is specifically prohibited from telling states how to set academic standards, what their state tests should be, how to identify and fix low-performing schools, how to create teacher evaluation systems, and how to set goals for student achievement and graduation rates.

In May, the Education Department issued its first proposed regulation  on accountability systems—and I will focus today on four areas that seem to me to be in need of overhaul, that is the regulation needs overhaul. And I’ll just mention them briefing.

One is the timeline for the new regulations. Senator Murray and I both mentioned this in our last hearing with Secretary King. The law requires states to “establish a State-determined methodology” to identify schools “beginning with school year 2017-2018”

But the proposed regulation requires states to start identifying new schools for support and improvement “by the beginning of” the 2017–2018 school year.

That timeline would discourage states from doing exactly what we hope they would do, which is develop and implement new accountability systems. 

State such as Tennessee and Hawaii have begun working with state and local coalitions on innovative approaches to accountability—expecting they’ll have until March or July of 2017 to submit them to the department. 

Dr. Pruitt from Kentucky will be testifying about that. I’ll look forward to his comments and testimony.

I asked Dr. King last week whether the proposed regulations would allow a state to “develop its new accountability system in 2017-18 and then begin to identify [new] schools, 2018-19.”

He said “Under the current regulations, it would not be [allowed]. But he’s open to comment on that. 

So my interpretation is that the Secretary would be willing to let States wait to identify new schools until the beginning of the 2018—19 school year, so long as states are providing additional support to schools that have already been identified under No Child Left Behind or the Waivers.

That may sound a little complicated but it’s pretty important to the states who are hearing a great deal about it across the board. The laws intention in my view is to give States an opportunity to demonstrate innovation and accountability systems, which is now their responsibility.

Second one, and Dr. Darling –Hammond mentions this in her testimony has to do with so-called “Summative Rating.”

The law says it is up to the states to annually measure and differentiate all public schools based on a series of indicators beyond just the federally required math and reading tests.

But the proposed rule invents out of whole cloth a requirement that these accountability systems result in each school receiving a single summative score, such an A through F grading system for schools. That is not in the law.

The law prohibits the Secretary from “prescribing the specific methodology used by states to meaningfully differentiate or identify schools.”

The regulation would seem to put the government in Washington back in the business of deciding which schools in Kentucky, Tennessee, Washington, Hawaii are succeeding or failing.

I look forward to Dr. Darling-Hammond comments on that.

And then third, State academic standards.

Under No Child Left Behind, in effect, the Department mandated that states adopt Common Core standard--and 38 of the 42 states did that in order to receive waivers.

The law repeals that effective mandate with at least 5 specific prohibitions.

It no longer requires a state to “demonstrate”  using that word, that they have adopted challenging standards—they simply have to “assure” the secretary they adopted those standards.

Dr. Pletnick in her testimony questions whether the the proposed rule requirement that the state “provide evidence at such time and in such manner specified by the Secretary that the State has adopted challenging academic content standards…” would “equate to the ability of the federal government to reject the state developed standards.

We look forward to that testimony.

And finally, high stakes federal tests.

The heart of the new law is the end of federal test-based accountability. We kept the 17 tests but we moved to states and classrooms what to do about the tests. 

The proposed regulation, however, seems to restore those high stakes mandates.

Federally-mandated tests would again and academic indicators would again would become the primary means used to determine whether a school is succeeding or not. Because once a school is identified as needing improvement it’s basically always going to need to be in need of improvement unless it shows significant progress on a federally mandated test and other academic indicators.

So those are some of the issues I’m concerned about, that is the witnesses have mentioned in their testimony.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses more on each of these issues. 

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