Earlier this month, on the eve of an annual public and charter school fair, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) released what’s known as the DC School Report Card, a compilation of more than 150 data points about how every public and charter school in the District performed during the last academic year.
Elements of the DC School Report Card, particularly the School Transparency and Reporting (STAR) Framework, have raised questions among parents and education advocates about the reliability of the assessment and how the information will shape enrollment patterns in schools located in the easternmost part of the city.
“There’s genuine concern about what the DC School Report Card would mean for enrollment and staffing, among other things” said Anise Walker, parent of a teenager who attends a charter school in Ward 7. Walker, a member of Parents Amplifying Voices in Education (PAVE)’s Citywide Parents Leaders in Education Board, has given voice to parents struggling to navigate the local education system during engagement meetings.
“As an educator, I have a different lens for making decisions around school choice. I want to encourage parents to consider that it’s more than what you could see on a report card,” Walker, a Southeast resident, added.
In the weeks since OSSE released the DC School Report Card, Walker has spoken with parents throughout the city who’ve expressed gratitude for the one-stop shop of statistical data about their child’s school but remained concerned about other information they consider relevant to the student experience and key in parents’ informed decisions about school choice.
A point of contention for Walker concerned the STAR Framework, with ratings between one and five that are based more on a school’s current standing rather than the gains made in an academic year. She said such metrics, which she described as overly reliant on PARCC testing data, disadvantage parents in resource-starved neighborhoods who would rely solely on the DC School Report Card to navigate the DC School Lottery, which opened on Dec. 10.
“A school in a rather challenging neighborhood in the city could have the possibility of having a low star rating,” Walker said. “Unless you got into that building, and saw what kids were doing, you wouldn’t know. A lot of work is happening behind closed doors that has to get captured in the metrics included in the report card. We have to make sure parents are not just taking these scores as the only determination for their child’s school.”
In early December, on the day before representatives of more than 200 schools showcased their offerings during EdFEST at the DC Armory in Southeast, OSSE announced that schools ranked in the bottom five percent of the framework, many of which are concentrated in the eastern part of the District, will receive grants totaling $11 million over three years to shape and implement a school improvement plan.
The DC School Report Card and STAR Framework, currently based on an online multilingual platform, represents the collection and aggregation of data about PARCC test scores and growth, re-enrollment, chronic absenteeism, and graduation rates where applicable. That information is organized by students’ racial and ethnic designation, students with disabilities, English language learners, and students classified as “at-risk.”
Both tools count among key provisions of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a federal law that requires U.S. schools teach at high academic standards geared toward college and career readiness. Federally mandated data, like that found in the DC School Report Card, has been intended to assist parents, students, educators and lawmakers in pushing for improvements to the lowest-performing schools in their communities.
While OSSE conferred with parents and education representatives about what would eventually become the DC School Report Card, some people have questioned how much the version released on Dec. 7 had been shaped by the community. Ward 8 D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE) Representative Markus Batchelor said parents had asked OSSE to move beyond standardized testing in its school ratings for more than a year, with little success.
“One of the consequences of the current rank is that it unfairly stigmatizes schools east of the river, with no regard for historic disinvestment that has left communities behind and the hard work schools are doing, despite those obstacles, to help students achieve,” Batchelor said. “So many of those [factors] can’t be measured on a standardized test.”
Batchelor and some of his SBOE colleagues, including newly elected Ward 4 Representative Frazier O’Leary, have warned that the STAR ratings exacerbate school inequality by reinforcing misconceptions about D.C.’s traditional public schools.
“The STAR rating advantages the public schools and charters that get to select their student population,” Batchelor added as he outlined plans to propose changes to the STAR Framework in the new year. “That’s the negative impact we’ve seen so far and had predicted early on. There are folks with a vested interest in the current framework doing it at the expense of our challenged school communities.”
Through his #BeyondtheSTARs campaign, Bachelor has encouraged parents to read past the STAR Framework in the DC School Report Card and use the other available information to develop a nuanced assessment of their child’s school.
While some parents like Yolanda Corbett have taken heed to that advice and imparted similar words of wisdom to community members, they have also decided to embrace the DC School Report Card and STAR Framework in their current state as a tool to advocate for improvements to their neighborhood schools.
“Overall, it’s a good start,” said Corbett, a Ward 7 parent leader and co-chair of SBOE’s Parent Advocate Leaders Group. “We’re still missing that element of simplicity that we had hoped for in our conversations and I’m not sure about how to achieve that.”
For Corbett, the STAR Rating System, even with its shortcomings, could enhance the conversation around school equity and help parents of special needs students make the case that beneficiaries of the Individualized Education Programs and 504 Plans in Wards 7 and 8 receive the appropriate accommodations in their neighborhood school.
“It will take engagement and feedback to make sure people are able to utilize and understand the STAR Framework,” she added. “We want to level the playing field and need data to show why we need investments in our schools.”