Tuesday, September 4, 2012
There is no perfect accountability system – we know that. For alternative education providers, for anyone serving students with significant academic gaps or that are under-age, under-credited, know this more than anyone. This includes online providers as well as community-based alternative schools. States and districts are trying to apply a policy built on the factory model to schools that are designed around personalization. I even heard that DC has told one provider either be assessed under the traditional accountability system or use an alternative accountability method but they’ll have to give up Title 1 funds. Let’s face it – this may not be intentional, but this is a backlash against the progress we have made over the past decade. Students are being harmed by policymakers hammering the square peg into the round hole.
So what to do? Some states offer schools a number of indicators to select from. One idea put forth by Ernie Silva is the At Promise Cohort cohort organized around students that reengage in a dropout recovery school for at least an academic year. In learning about Student Learning Objectives (SLO) promoted by the Community Training and Assistance Center, I started wondering if we could use them as a way of creating a meaningful growth model for accountability.
SLO essentially documents good practice and in doing so creates an evaluation process designed around meaningful student learning. (Click here for an example of how SLO is applied.) The SLO process starts with teachers identifying clear learning objectives for a specific group of students (a class or a sub-group), their instructional strategies, methods of assessment, and what they need in terms of support to meet those objectives. The SLO process triggers powerful conversations among educators about how to help students learn.
SLO is being adopted by states as a comparable growth model. Developed in Denver where it is rooted in the compensation system, piloted in Austin and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, SLO is now being adopted by states including NY, MD, RI, IN, OH, and HI.
What if quality could be measured in alternative education by SLOs? I may be pushing this too far – honestly I’m not sure how well it might work or if it would work at all. One of our challenges in accountability is we get all the questions mixed up -- How do our states, districts, schools, or teachers compare to each other? How are our states, districts, schools and teachers improving (or not)? What is the level of our student knowledge/skills and how is it improving? The power of SLO just got me to thinking about the possibility of designing an accountability system for alternative education that was based on what teachers were focused on teaching. Would this give us a way to look more closely at the quality of alternative education that still took into consideration the skills and developmental trajectory students entered with?
I just don't know. What I do know is that the current fiddling with the traditional accountability system to make it apply to schools serving “untraditional” students is just becoming unproductive.
Question for you all - Has any alternative education school in these states explored whether SLO offers a helpful alternative to tests, tests, and more tests?
If you are interested, I also noodled about the relationship between SLO and competency education here.