Illinois’ School Accountability Plan Doesn’t Work for Our Kids and the Feds Told Them So

Aug 16, 2017 12:00:00 AM

by Tracy Dell’Angela

It’s comforting to learn that the feds (i.e. The U.S. Department of Education run by Secretary Betsy DeVos) has some serious concerns about Illinois accountability plans. When I first saw Illinois’ plan, I concluded that it fell far short of its goals around equity and transparency, and wrote about those failings  here and  here. Illinois was among the first states to submit its plan for Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal legislation passed in 2015 to replace No Child Left Behind. Illinois succeeded on a couple fronts: It shifted the accountability focus to student “growth”—how much a student improves from year to year—from “proficiency,” a rather arbitrary cut-point for what represents grade-level learning. And I appreciate that it looks beyond standardized test scores to give insight into important school quality factors—chronic absenteeism, a  freshman-on-track metric for high schoolers and school climate surveys. But it failed on two fronts: It won’t protect our most vulnerable students, and it won’t actually hold our schools accountable, at least not on any kind of reasonable timetable. I've written about this out before.
Schools have until  the year 2032 to meet these goals—15 long years to get up to snuff. It’s literally a lifetime in the schooling of an Illinois student—so the kindergartener who enrolls next fall will be three years out of high school before any school is answerable for these goals.
And…nothing much happens if schools don’t hit these goals, or even make reasonable progress toward these goals. I also pointed out how vulnerable “subgroups” of students will once again disappear from accountability, presuming they attend schools that are not the worst of the worst but merely mediocre or even average…and how the state punted when it came to setting a meaningful standard for teacher quality. The Department of Education recently shared some of these very same concerns with our state. From a  summary published this month by Education Week:
The state’s proposed timeline for developing and implementing its measures of progress for students towards English-language proficiency doesn’t match what ESSA requires. For school improvement, the department’s feedback states that Illinois’ plan to identify schools with struggling student subgroups (or schools needing “targeted” support and intervention) does not sufficiently cover all required subgroups. Illinois also gets dinged for not providing more information as to how it will identify the extent to which low-income and minority students are taught by ineffective, out-of-field, and inexperienced teachers.
Illinois showed some initiative and got its plan in early. Now it’s time to dig back in and make it better. This plan doesn’t work for Illinois children, as the feds wisely pointed out.
An original version of this post appeared on Head in the Sand.

Tracy Dell’Angela

Tracy Dell’Angela is a writer, education nonprofit executive director and a mom passionate about education improvements. Previously, Tracy was Director of Outreach and Communications for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. She came to IES from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, which produces research that drives improvement in Chicago and nationwide. She also served as Senior Project Director for 100Kin10 at the University of Chicago and was Director of Program Investments and Partnerships for the Chicago Public Education Fund. Tracy spent most of her career as an award-winning newspaper journalist, including 12 years at the Chicago Tribune as an education reporter covering national policy and the Chicago Public Schools. A Californian by birth but a Chicagoan in spirit, Tracy attended University of Chicago as a master's student in social sciences and earned a B.A. in journalism and political science from San Diego State University.

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