Coming on the heels of an approved ESSA plan, the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is setting its sights on creating a system of continuous school improvement in the 2018-2019 school year as it rolls out a new accountability framework.
In January, the U.S. Department of Education approved the state of Washington’s ESSA plan, which included an updated approach to school evaluation and accountability. The new accountability system, called the Washington School Improvement Framework (WSIF), focuses on “reshaping state standards and assessments, bolstering teacher effectiveness, and ensuring an equitable education for all students.” The framework also establishes which schools would receive federal funding based on student performance indicators.
WSIF utilizes nine indicators, including pre-ESSA markers like ELA and Math Proficiency, as well as new additions like English Learner Progress and attendance, to measure overall school performance. The scores are weighed on a 1-10 scale, which then create a holistic view of the school and provide a clearer picture of specific student populations. When measured, the lowest five percent of scores statewide create a support threshold. Schools that fall below the low-performance threshold receive either “comprehensive support” or “targeted support,” depending on the severity of the achievement gaps at the identified school.
The state’s Office of System and School Improvement (OSSI) manages how funds are distributed to schools identified for improvement by the new accountability framework. OSSI collaborates with “internal and external partners” such as local education agencies to provide critical resources and programs to identified schools, depending on where they fall in the state’s “support tiers.” The different support tiers determine how much funding will be allotted to schools and to what extent the state will become involved:
- Tier I: Foundational and Self-Directed Supports – Tier I support is given to schools needing support for only a few specific areas or student populations. OSPI recommends that schools, depending on what their area of improvement is, work with “local district supports at the district and then consult with the relevant OSPI department, their ESD, or other potential partnerships.” Funding can be used to implement support initiatives ranging from professional development to data analysis tools.
- Tier II: Targeted Supports – Every school identified for Tier II support is eligible for funding for support practices, including “educator-designed and produced research” and hiring “educational content specialists for students with disabilities and English learners.” These partnerships would yield results-driven best practices to be shared with districts for addressing persistent achievement gaps for at-risk populations.
- Tier III: Comprehensive and Comprehensive Low Graduation Rate – Like Targeted support schools, schools identified for Comprehensive support are eligible funding and merit-based grants. Funding should be used to address inequity as a driver of achievement gaps. Programs that focus on professional development and cultural competency ensure students “experience a positive, consistent, safe, and equitable classroom.” Additionally, OSPI will facilitate a team of educational content specialists to development and implement strategies to tackle achievement gaps at Comprehensive support-identified schools.
In addition to providing support for identified schools, Washington’s superintendent office encourages districts to use federal resources to spark innovation and leadership at all schools regardless of their designation. Under ESSA, state and local education agencies and partner districts can use Title I, Part A to “provide students with a well-rounded education.” A well-rounded education, as defined by ESSA, relates to:
Courses, activities, and programming in subjects such as English, reading or language arts, writing, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, geography, computer science, music, career and technical education, health, physical education, and any other subject, as determined by the SEA or LEA, with the purpose of providing all students access to an enriched curriculum and educational experience.
Unlike its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), ESSA allows greater flexibility in using Title I, Part A funds to address student needs. The extent to which these funds can be used and what types of programs are allowed is more narrowly defined in the state’s Title I, Part A & ESSA: A Fiscal Handbook. However, support initiatives that speak to Washington state’s overarching educational priorities include early childhood education programs, monitoring student progress, identifying students at risk for academic failure, and purchasing “equipment, materials, and training needed to compile and analyze student achievement data to monitor progress, alert the school to struggling students, and drive decision making.”
Since WSIF accountability system establishes clearer expectations for student success and areas of improvement, school leaders can utilize this data to inform how they use Title I, Part A funds. With that, the upcoming implementation stage provides Washington schools and districts ample opportunity to define their own achievement goals and secure resources to meet those benchmarks for student success in the coming academic year.
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