By Dr. Melody Schopp
Department of Education
Waiver options will help schools, students prepare
Over the last few months, South Dakota has been one of several states working with the Council of Chief State School Officers to press the federal government for some flexibility related to statewide assessment. Recently, we were happy to learn that the U.S. Department of Education will be offering states flexibility in two critical areas:
U.S. Ed will consider a one-year waiver to allow schools participating in field tests of the new assessments (Smarter Balanced in South Dakota’s case) to administer only one assessment in 2013-14 to any individual student: either the current statewide assessment or the field test. U.S. Ed also will consider requests for those schools using the field tests to retain their federal accountability designations for an additional year, during which time the same targeted interventions would continue.
After numerous discussions with people in the field, we believe it makes the most sense to administer just the Smarter Balanced field test assessment in 2013-14. Smarter Balanced is aligned to the new standards in English language arts and math, and it represents our future. If we receive the flexibilities noted above, South Dakota students and teachers will have the 2013-14 school year to familiarize themselves with the new assessment. Scores from that assessment would not be used for accountability purposes, but could offer valuable information about student preparedness and expectations. Schools would retain their accountability designations (Exemplary, Priority, Focus, etc.) from the 2013-14 school year through the 2014-15 year.
Student Growth & Personnel Decisions
U.S. Ed is allowing states that have received ESEA Flexibility Waivers up to one additional year before districts will be required to use student growth data as part of any high-stakes personnel decisions. In other words, South Dakota school districts would have until the 2016-17 school year before using the results of their new evaluation systems, tied in part to student growth, to inform personnel decisions.
This would give districts additional time to work through the new principal and teacher evaluation systems to prepare themselves for using the results from the 2015-16 evaluation cycle as part of their hiring decisions for the 2016-17 school year. Districts would still be required to implement an evaluation system based on the state’s teaching standards in the 2014-15 school year. Implementation of these systems will not be delayed, only the requirement to use these new evaluation systems for personnel decisions would be delayed until 2016-17.