A+ Colorado Public Comment: Accountability Changes for Colorado’s Students

Good morning members of the board,

I’m Lisa Berdie and I am the Vice President of Policy and Research at A+ Colorado. 

Key to our theory of action of how to improve public education is deep public discourse. Thank you, and the Department, for creating the time and space for that.

We submitted a letter to you ahead of this meeting through a process from the Department where they requested feedback on proposed changes to the accountability frameworks from engaged stakeholders including policy groups, associations, and professionals in the field. We are grateful for the opportunity to share our thinking and values through this process, and at other points throughout the last year as the Board and Department discussed this.

As you head into today’s decision I would like highlight some of what we see as the more salient points from out letter, and from public comment A+ has made across the year about this topic.

First, we believe that holding high standards for our schools and districts is critical. If we push for rigorous state standards that prepare students for college and career, should we not also set high expectations for our schools and districts? We support a higher bar for our schools to achieve a performance rating.

We believe there is a disconnect about this now, certainly in the elementary and middle school ratings you are discussing today, but that the disconnect was also clear in the department’s decision to lower the indicator cut score for SAT. While students are being told that their scores are completely valid and that they can use them to apply for college, schools and districts have been told that the cut scores for that indicator would be decreased given overall lower scores. This signal — that students are held to consistent expectations rooted in college and career-readiness — but that schools and districts are held solely to a normative expectation that can change if students do worse is highly problematic.

We also believe that differentiation is important.  72% of our schools receive the same rating, but 72% of our schools are not supporting students to reach the same academic outcomes. To that end, I want to reiterate what we wrote in our letter: It is important that when these measures are rolled up that they signal something about the school’s success in supporting students to learn. 

What I hope is not lost in this point is the value of transparency for families, communities, and students. 

To some of the points made in several letters you received, assessment scores sliced in various ways do not wholly convey the student experience or the quality of a school. 

What assessments do provide is a comparable way to understand how systems are supporting students — regardless of family income, learning differences, race or ethnicity– to demonstrate their mastery of the academic standards that, as a state, we have said are critical for students. This comparability is important if we care about all students having access to the same educational opportunities.

And we believe deeply that the state should absolutely be investing in other ways to help families and educators understand and communicate the true quality of education provided in a school. The accountability system provides a starting point, but is neither sufficient, nor does it prevent that necessary work.

Of all the stakeholders in the education system, the input of families and students was least sought. The state, districts, schools should be designing a system not only with families and students in mind, but with them at the table. (Due to time limits, this portion was excluded in testimony. We have included here for context.)

We appreciate your work and willingness to dig into public dialogue about how we best support students.