Current models of federal accountability have narrowly focused on English/language arts and mathematics, and student test results. As a result, school systems across the nation have distorted educational practice, winnowing school goals and discounting other learning which is valuable for a well-rounded citizen.
In 2013, the Vermont State Board of Education adopted the Education Quality Standards to challenge this narrow focus, and to hold schools accountable for implementing an educational program which serves the full breadth of learning. These standards established proficiency-based learning, flexible pathways to graduation, safe school environments, high-quality staffing and financially efficient practices as the cornerstones of educational programming in the state. Combined with Act 77 of 2013, these standards ensure students participate in a range of learning activities including service-learning, work-based learning, career and technical training, dual enrollment and early college, and other locally developed learning opportunities.
While Vermont has strong achievement results as measured by national exams or graduation rates, we continue to have persistent gaps between students of privilege and their peers who are in poverty, students with disabilities and students who are learning English.
This school year, we will be piloting Education Quality Reviews in volunteer supervisory unions and districts across the state. These reviews will be the mechanism by which the Agency of Education, the state of Vermont and our local communities will determine how well we are delivering on the promises set forward by EQS. The Agency will evaluate schools by measuring five dimensions of school quality: academic achievement, personalization, safe school climate, high-quality staffing and financial efficiencies.
Through this mechanism, Vermont will hold schools systems accountable for moving towards an educational system which prioritizes proficiency-based learning and personalization to increase students' college and career readiness.
The Agency will use two complimentary processes for assessing these criteria, an Annual Snapshot Review and an Integrated Field Review. Each year the state will gather quantitative data in the Annual Snapshot Review, which measures the five dimensions of school quality. This data will be examined for overall performance and to assess the degree of equity for students between the supervisory unions/districts and between schools. The data will continue to use English and Math scores; however they become but two of nearly twenty metrics considered in Academic Achievement, and nearly 120 metrics overall.
At least every three years, school systems will participate in an Integrated Field Review. Teams of students, educators and Agency staff will engage in classroom observations, reviews of student work, panel discussions or interviews with parents, students and staff and collaborate to generate their assessments of school system performance. Reports will be published and will include a summary of the data collected, commendations, recommendations and assessments of performance.
Each year the Agency of Education will report to the public on the State of the State using this data, and will build an improvement strategy with and for the field. In years where a school system has both an Annual Snapshot Review and an Integrated Field Review, the Agency of Education will make accountability determinations for those supervisory union/districts. If the reviews determine that the school system has provided substantially high quality and equitable experiences for its students, then no further action would be taken by the Agency. However, if the reviews lead to the conclusion that substantial inequity exists and that the school system is not adequately working to improve outcomes, the Agency will intercede through support and sanctions to ensure improvement.
Our schools have many strengths. However, we are always working to get better. Regardless of the review's assessment, every school system will develop continuous improvement plans. School systems with greater need will have systematic support from the Agency to identify high-leverage improvement strategies, while those systems with higher performance will have full autonomy to select the strategies which meet local needs.
These field visits and opportunities to see what our neighbors do will provide our educators with opportunities to learn from each other and to share and showcase promising practices that other schools may want to try out. By engaging educators in reviews, we believe we will build a shared responsibility for all of our youth. By involving students in the reviews of their own school systems, we help keep student voice at the center of the conversation about what students need from their schools.
The Education Quality Reviews seek to build a common understanding across Vermont of what all students, regardless of geography or demography, are getting from their time in school. We look forward to telling you what we find out.
Amy Fowler is a Deputy Secretary at the Vermont Agency of Education.