From Chair Muñoz-Colón:
On December 1, 2014, the State Board of Education sent our report on educational system health indicators as required pursuant to Chapter 282, Laws of 2013 (SB 5491) to the education committees of the Legislature.
The 2013 statute has a relatively simple – and laudable – goal: to establish a system report card, or “health chart,” for the educational system, and to review our progress toward these goals periodically to see if the strategies we are pursuing are consistent with our goals. Are state agencies working together toward a common cause, aligning their policies for the benefit of students and families? As a state, do the budgets we adopt reflect our values and expectations as expressed in these goals? These are basic, fundamental questions that any effective organization must address in their strategic planning, and the tax-paying public expects no less of state government and its oversight of the public school system.
Exactly one year ago, we provided a report which established ‘baseline values and initial goals for the system’ as required by the law. This year, our report, produced collaboratively with key stakeholder groups, focuses more heavily on recommended reforms to put us on target to meet our stated goals. A few key ‘take-aways’ are worth noting.
First, this is a challenging time for goal-setting in our state. Transitioning to college- and career-ready standards (both Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards) makes year-to-year student outcome comparisons difficult. We will need to revisit target-setting when achievement levels reset.
Furthermore, our ability to completely align system goals with school-level goals has been frustrated by the absence of an Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) flexibility waiver for schools. Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), virtually all schools are failing under Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), as 100% proficiency was required for all schools this school year. This leaves our state with a difficult choice: set system goals that align with somewhat meaningless federal AYP targets, or create new system goals that are not aligned, but introduce new meaning into the goals-setting landscape for our state. In this report, we chose the latter option.
Despite these challenges, we believe our student data ultimately tells a story that we need to listen to as a state. It’s a story of hope and aspiration, but also of tremendous challenge. Our data tells us that it is possible for every student to succeed and overcome obstacles to achieve career and college-readiness. Examples of this abound. Unfortunately, these examples tend to be the exception rather than the system norm.
How do we reverse this trend? In the view of the State Board of Education, a few key realities must be confronted to truly address these challenges. First, there is very little reason to believe that offering the same educational system in perpetuity will produce meaningfully different results for our students. We believe producing equitable outcomes for all students requires bold change, both in the way we deliver instruction, and the amount and types of instruction we intend to deliver.
Second, we must acknowledge that the achievement and opportunity gaps we hope to close materialize very early in a child’s life. Indeed, in all the data that we looked at, gaps were present at the very earliest stages. And, depending on the indicator, these gaps either held constant or grew throughout a student’s educational career when analyzing data at the system level. The stark reality is that, with a few exceptions, during a student’s educational journey the system tends to perpetuate or even increase the size of these gaps, rather than close them.
In general, the data tell us that our low income students, and students of color, start behind and stay behind. As a group, they begin schooling in a deficit situation across a range of readiness indicators relative to their peers, and on an annual basis, they might acquire less than a full year’s worth of learning when their peers are acquiring more than a year. As a result, the gap steadily widens each year. This seems to hold true for virtually every aspect of student performance that we can quantify.
Therefore, closing the achievement gap requires us to reverse growth gaps – to think about how we can increase the rate of learning experienced by our lower-achieving student subgroups on an annual basis, such that they accelerate and graduate from our system on equal footing with their peers. One of the ways that we can do this is to do a better job of leveraging the strengths that students bring to their education that are not currently being valued and supported by the system. Framing the challenge in this way creates a sense of urgency for the system, and also puts clearly into focus just how significant the commitment will need to be on the part of the state and individual school districts to achieve it.
In conclusion, the data tells us a story that is ultimately a call to action. We need to think systematically about the role opportunity gaps at all levels play in creating barriers to college- and career-readiness. Specifically, we need to rethink what is meant by “basic education.” We need to think about the role that “summer loss” and after school and extended day programs play in a student’s educational journey. We need to make a commitment as a state to high quality professional development for all educators, so that they stay current on educational standards, and build understanding about how to best deliver that content to students from different cultures and backgrounds, speaking different languages, or presenting special educational needs. Our current systemic assumption that professional development is not essential to basic education is a flimsy belief that cannot be sustained as part of our plan for fulfilling the most basic rights of our students.
And finally, we need to be prepared to intervene early and often in a child’s life. Systemically, we should align our belief systems about when the gaps begin and widen for students with our timelines for intervening with intensive and supplemental instructional opportunities.
The State Board of Education is extremely honored to have been tasked with this important responsibility. We look forward to further discussion about how we can take some of the recommended reforms embedded in this report, and make them a reality for students.