By Dr. Melody Schopp
Department of Education
Moving away from NCLB, toward more credible system
I knew when we first embarked on the journey to apply for a waiver that would provide flexibility from key provisions of No Child Left Behind, that it would be a long and sometimes rocky road. But it was a journey worth taking.
With our flexibility waiver approved, South Dakota is no longer tied to the goal of 100 percent proficiency for all students which was certainly lofty but not practical. Another key flexibility is the move away from adequate yearly progress determinations. Both flexibilities have afforded us, as a state, the opportunity to think differently about what is a reasonable goal and how we measure school performance.
That said, there will be pieces of the new accountability system that still look the same. We will still report out much of the same data, and the state is still required to classify schools and provide interventions and support to those who most need it. But our measurements for accountability will be spread across multiple indicators, instead of relying so heavily on a once-a-year assessment.
The new system is built around a 100-point scale, called the School Performance Index, which uses multiple indicators to measure performance. Five key indicators make up the scale, and these indicators will be phased in over time with full implementation in the 2014-15 school year.
Under the new system, schools will have unique goals and targets based on the goal of reducing, by half, the percentage of students who score basic and below basic within six years. Each school will have unique annual targets for each of its subgroups, as well as a new Gap Group and Non-Gap Group, based on this overarching goal.
The Gap Group is an aggregate of student subgroups that have historically not performed well on the statewide assessment in other words, those students who need some extra assistance. The Non-Gap Group is the remainder of the subgroups.
The concept of a Gap Group serves South Dakota well for two reasons. First, by aggregating the count of students in the subgroups, more schools will have the opportunity to focus on those groups of struggling students. Second, by using the Gap and Non-Gap Group for accountability purposes, we are ensuring that each student counts only once when considering student achievement (i.e., test scores). Under the old system, a student might fall into several subgroups (eg., economically disadvantaged, limited English proficient, and students with disabilities) and be counted in each of those subgroups. Under the new system, students are counted only once in either the Gap Group or Non-Gap Group for student achievement purposes.
The School Performance Index will be used to identify Title I schools for federally required intervention and supports. Per the waiver requirements, the state will begin working with a certain number of Priority and Focus schools beginning in the 2012-13 school year.
Recognition of Exemplary schools also will be determined using the School Performance Index. Any school, regardless of its Title status, is eligible for Exemplary status.
One final thing that I like about the new system is that it offers an additional five points to any school that meets both its Gap and Non-Gap Group targets in reading and math in any given year.
The approval of the federal waiver was just one of several steps in a move toward a new, more credible accountability system for South Dakota. Ill be the first to admit that the new system is not perfect no system ever is but it is certainly a step in the right direction.
My thanks to all those who have provided guidance, input and feedback throughout the process. We will be looking for feedback again soon when we take administrative rules before the Board of Education.