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Fordham Offers a Few Good Suggestions to Improve Colorado K-12 Accountability

Calling all Colorado education policy makers and policy wonks: I hope you’ll check out this new Fordham Institute report Defining Strong State Accountability Systems: How Can Better Standards Gain Greater Traction? My Education Policy Center friends and I can’t endorse everything in the publication.

But it’s worth looking at because Colorado is one of seven state accountability systems profiled. The 2009 CAP4K changes to the state’s accountability law, as well as 2010’s educator effectiveness legislation, were both cited as key reasons for including the Centennial State in the analysis. The authors make some excellent points to chew on.

First, improvements can be made to the way district and school performance data are presented:

But while SchoolView provides a wealth of information, it is also difficult to navigate, according to both district and community representatives. Though the state provides materials to aid interpretation, this “guidance” can be so complex as to confuse even the savviest user. [link added]

This assessment differs from last year’s lofty praise for SchoolView’s ease of access provided in an Education Sector report. As I told you then, “My Education Policy Center friends haven’t been as keen on the site’s user-friendliness.” It’s refreshing to see a respected national group affirm this observation with the new report.

The Fordham authors highlight something else from their outside perch that deserves careful consideration. “By allowing the top 60 percent of its schools to fall into the Performance category, Colorado offers little ability—much less concrete incentive—for schools to strive to achieve at high levels,” they write. Exactly! Later the authors acknowledge the “Centers of Excellence” recognition some of Colorado’s highest-performing schools receive. But that’s just it: it’s only recognition. Maybe we can keep the conversation moving toward tying state funding to academic performance gains.

Finally, the entire Fordham report emphasizes the need for “rewards and consequences” not only at the school level but also for individual students. About Colorado, they identify as a weakness that “Students are not required to pass a cumulative high school exam in order to graduate, nor are they required to pass cumulative assessments in key grades in order to be promoted to the next grade.”

The report, however, also notes the strength of Colorado’s open enrollment law that gives some measure of empowerment to students and families by choosing public schools across district boundaries. Which is my cue to tell you once again about our fabulous, one-of-a-kind School Choice for Kids website, as well as the new Colorado School Grades website. While you’re checking out those sites, let’s keep the conversation about student accountability moving forward, too.

Yes, Colorado passed some big education reform laws in the past few years. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t real work yet to be done. Fordham’s analysis, and particularly the three points I raised, should prompt some renewed debates.