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Does VDOE want Accountability or Disruption of Virginia Schools?

Accountability and accreditation categories proposed by VDOE for public schools

Glenn Youngkin and Secretary Aimee Guidera’s constant narrative since taking office is that Virginia public schools are failing: In spite of consistent real time proofs to the contrary. Virginia public schools are among the best in the nation, and in some cases the world. Even with two years of VDOE repeating the narrative of failure, VA is ranked 10th overall and 7th in student success in their own dataset.


The Accountability and Accreditation Proposed Regulations, which the Virginia Board of Education (VBOE) will vote on at this week’s April 25 BOE meeting, is their latest attempt to develop false proof of their failure narrative.


Although VDOE’s process in rolling out the new Accreditation and Accountability regs can best be described as fast, muddy, and incomplete, the more disturbing issue is the content of the regulations themselves. 


They are a classic example of the disruption accountability model. A hallmark of the disruption movement has been to demand untenable and unreasonable standards that destabilize the system, then punish the people in the system for not meeting those requirements. The final stages of a disruption accountability process is for the state to revoke the school's license, take over the schools and privatize them.


The main target of disruption evaluation systems across the country has been schools in less affluent neighborhoods that are usually also deeply underfunded and vulnerable to privatization. Governor Youngkin’s new regulations are clearly in this mode. 


The VDOE’s new Accreditation and Accountability plan shares four traits with disruption evaluation systems, including: 


  • Heavily Weight evaluations toward elements outside school control

A key element of a disruptive accountability plan involves judging schools on factors they cannot control, for example: attendance. Attendance is mostly outside of the schools' purview, and resides in control of parents and guardians, as is graduation rate. So why is the VDOE proposing to use attendance and graduation rate as 35% of a high school evaluation, and 20% of middle school evaluation?


  • Change student performance measures to highlight small differences 

VDOE’s plan converts Virginia’s SOL’s current three level Fail- Pass-Pass Advanced scale to a four level scoring model, Failed, Basic, Proficient, Advanced that corresponds to the NAEP scale, despite the fact that the NAEP and SOL scores are not comparable. Basic will count less than the prior Pass score (.75 versus 1.0), while a Proficient in NAEP is considered a score above grade level. Thus the VDOE Basic category is likely to depress school ratings without instructional significance. The plan adjusts the school wide calculation to account for this change and calls it a Mastery Index.  


Mastery Index adjusts school wide calculations for accountability and accreditation


  • Suppress growth measures or Distort their accuracy.

This involves a focus on measures that can then be leveraged to portray students as being behind expectations. This VDOE provision is designed to handicap exceptional students who are neurodivergent, or second language learners, hence penalizing schools which have higher populations of differently profiled students. VDOE’s plan does this by elevating expected readiness levels and making mastery levels exorbitantly high. For instance the Middle School completion expectations include tests such as: Algebra II, the English 11 High school test, and the English 11-12 High School American and US History tests. However, few of these classes are even available in most Virginia public schools.


  • Create a media shorthand system for labeling schools as failing

Early criticisms pushed the VBOE away from A-F ratings, which had failed in most places they were implemented. So they created color codes (with blue as successful, green, yellow and then red as failing). Thus VDOE provides a visual shorthand for critics and media to use against Virginia schools without the granular information necessary to understand the color codes. 


The fifth characteristic of disruption evaluation systems is not overtly stated in the presentations Superintendent Coons and the VDOE are sharing, perhaps because it would be too frightening for Virginians to accept. The potential consequences have been realized in states and districts which have already adopted disruption evaluations, districts like DC, Louisiana and Texas. Notably, Governor Youngkin is hiring people from locales which have attempted implementation of similar systems.


  • The potential consequences for schools that don’t reach the requirements are serious. 

The most obvious result of not meeting VDOE’s requirements, which are set up for failure, is denial of accreditation, which has staggering consequences for students, schools, and communities. Though the consequences of that outcome are not quantified in the VDOE’s presentations, we can predict them based on states and districts which have followed the disruptive accountability playbook. They include firing of staff, state takeovers, and further economic depression of lower wealth districts, students who no longer qualify for college, and falling funding from lowered property values. 


Rally to support keeping taxpayer money in public schools

Disruption has been a long-time cornerstone of the education reform movement. Back in 2012, about the same time the last Republican governor was putting forward his draconian accountability plan which resulted in teachers fleeing from the field, the Harvard Business Review ran how-to articles on Disrupting the Public Sector. Of course the Disrupt and Reform Movement goes back even farther to the standards and testing movement which took hold in the mid-1990s, and even to Nation at Risk in 1986.


A hallmark of the disruption movement has been to demand untenable and unreasonable standards that destabilize the system, then punish the people in the system for not meeting those requirements. The final stages of the Disruption Movement is to take over the schools (or in the case of businesses, the stores.) 


What disruptors don’t admit, or maybe never knew, is that children do not do well with disruption. Students need reliability, consistency, and well managed progressive change. 


Sadly, The Board of Education and Governor Youngkin plan more disruption through this Accreditation and Accountability plan. 


How about truly innovative accreditation measures? Why not measure things Virginia schools actually can and do provide: strong core instruction, wide numbers of electives and career courses, after school programs, and strong community connections? There is much to measure that gives us better information about students, what they have learned, what they need to improve learning, and how neighborhoods might factor into the equation that are better evaluators than standardized tests with a gotcha twist. 


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