State Board of Education Testimonial on SR20-11: Resolution on Improving the STAR Framework

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On Wednesday, December 15, 2021, Education Policy Initiative Director Chelsea Coffin testified at the DC State Board of Education (SBOE) town hall meeting on SR20-11: State Board of Education Resolution on Improving the School Transparency and Reporting Framework (STAR). You can read his testimonial below or download a PDF copy.


Good evening, members of the DC State Board of Education (SBOE). My name is Chelsea Coffin and I am the Director of the Education Policy Initiative at the DC Policy Center, an independent think tank focused on advancing policy for a growing and vibrant economy in DC. I am testifying tonight before the SBOE Committee on Accountability and Evaluation. recommendations follow up on resolution SR20-11. I will focus my comments on recommendations 1 and 12.

First, I was very pleased to see recommendation 12, which suggests including an indicator of employment, career readiness, and college graduation. Learning more about the experiences of early-career graduates in the district could inform practices and investments to support current students and future graduates on the path to success. The recent DC Policy Center report, Measuring Early Career Outcomes at DC, presented a plan for how the District of Columbia can gather more information about the early career outcomes of public school alumni. While finding this data is incredibly difficult, knowing what happens to public school students after their 15 years of pre-K through 12 is critical. The inclusion of Early Career Outcomes in the OSSE Longitudinal Data System, as recommended, is critical to tracking them consistently for all DC alumni.

Secondly, I would like this body to consider removing Recommendation 1, which suggests eliminating the single summative rating of schools – one of the main sources of information that parents use when choosing schools. In a recent parent survey conducted by the DC Policy Center, 37% said they used STAR or school quality ratings and 28% used report card data, compared to half who mentioned word of mouth. (48%) and school visits (48%) as influential sources of information in their child’s choice of school.[1] School tours are powerful, but there’s no way for parents to visit every school in the district, especially during COVID – and word of mouth is important, but can be biased depending on who is in your network. .[2]

It’s also important to consider keeping schools’ single summative score to be transparent about data from all schools, not just the bottom 5% as mentioned in recommendation 7. Providing this overall rating allows the SBOE to recommend how OSSE should communicate the data to parents and other stakeholders. Prior to the STAR framework, parents used other sources such as Great Schools to get a high level comparison of schools. Removing summative scoring will not simply eliminate the claim, leaving others to aggregate the data in potentially misleading ways.

If SBOE and OSSE removed this single rating under their control, they would lose the ability to communicate continuously about how stakeholders should use summative ratings. Stakeholders can make judgments based on a single data point they value (perhaps demographics or competence which many mistakenly associate as the most important indicators of school quality)[3] without considering other more holistic parameters that the STAR framework incorporates, such as academic growth, English proficiency, re-enrollment, or absenteeism.

Instead of eliminating single scoring, DC SBOE might recommend other ways to reduce bias in STAR scoring and its use. This could mean adjusting indicator weights to reduce the influence of competence, for example. This could also mean including the overall score of students designated as at risk, for example, on the front page with the information mentioned in Recommendations 5 and 6. Additionally, efforts could be made to educate stakeholders on the front page on how to use the grade or highlight each school’s challenges and successes.

Finally, the need for transparent data is even more critical during the pandemic. Removing the summative score makes it more difficult to track a school’s overall trajectory across multiple areas and identify trends in different areas of a school that require improvement and integrated supports.

[1] Coffin, C. and Sayin Taylor, Y. 2021. Exit and Voice: Perceptions of District Public Schools Among Nonresidents and Leavers. DC Policy Center. Retrieved from https://www.dcpolicycenter.org/publications/school-leavers/

[2] Williamson, V., Gode, J., and Sun, H. 2021. We All Want What’s Best for Our Children: Discussions of DC Public School Options in an Online Forum. Governance studies at the Brookings Institution. Extract of https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Discussions_DC_public_school_options_online_forum_Brookings-Report.pdf

[3] Coffin, C. and Sayin Taylor, Y. 2021. Exit and Voice: Perceptions of District Public Schools Among Nonresidents and Leavers. DC Policy Center. Retrieved from https://www.dcpolicycenter.org/publications/school-leavers/

DC Policy Center Fellows are freelance writers, and we gladly encourage the expression of a variety of viewpoints. The opinions of our fellows, published here or elsewhere, do not reflect the views of the DC Policy Center.

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