School districts in Washington that show consistently poor performance should be subject to state takeover, monetary penalties, or other consequences, concludes a state panel established to devise a system of accountability for the state’s schools.
The recommendations come from the Academic Achievement and Accountability Commission, known as the A+ Commission, which has spent a year weighing how to hold the state’s public schools and districts more accountable for students’ academic performance.
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But some public education advocates said the panel’s get-tough recommendations would go too far, too fast. And they contended that the group did not give enough weight to the views of teachers and parents.
Barbara Casey, the government-relations director of the Washington PTA, said she was “not overly happy” with the proposed accountability measures.
“The underlying assumption is that schools are at fault, and there are terrible administrators and terrible teachers,” she said.
The panel’s report describes several types of state intervention for low-performing schools:
• Withholding state aid from a district or school;
• “Reconstituting” school workforces, which could involve firing or transferring principals and teachers;
• Removing some low-performing schools from a district and having them governed by officials other than the district superintendent and school board;
• Appointing a trustee or receiver to run a district;
• Abolishing or restructuring a school district; and
• Authorizing student transfers to other schools or districts, with the state possibly paying for students’ transportation.
“I’d be disappointed if in fact we had to apply any of those drastic remedies,” said Patrick F. Patrick, a retired Seattle banker and the commission’s chairman.
In fact, the panel outlined plans for “focused assistance” to help struggling schools avoid that fate.
Eligibility for such assistance—and the possibility of state intervention—would be based primarily on students’ scores on the reading and mathematics sections of the Washington Assessments of Student Learning and performance on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills. Students are tested in grades 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, and 10. >
For schools and districts that failed to meet the cutoff scores three years in a row, the state schools superintendent would negotiate with the school board a two-year, renewable performance agreement. Such an agreement would spell out what actions the state, the district, and the school would take to improve student performance.
The panel has not yet drawn up criteria for high schools. Nor has it decided on the cutoff scores that would subject elementary, middle, and junior high schools to focused assistance or intervention.
However, it has recommended that focused assistance be applied to 30 of the lowest-performing schools in the state in the 2001-02 school year and to 50 schools the following year.
“I call it flying black helicopters from out of Olympia to take people over,” Craig Shurick, the principal of Vaughan Elementary, near Tacoma, said of the intervention measures.
He said his rural school of 652 students in a high- poverty corner of the generally affluent Peninsula district found plenty of motivation from public concerns about the statewide WASL tests and a timely state grant.
When he arrived at the school in 1996, the first year of the WASL, his school had the lowest reading scores in the district. He used the grant to develop five different reading intervention strategies, and also to hire tutors and a reading specialist. His school’s reading scores are now the highest in the district, he said.
Others expressed different concerns.
Lee Ann Prielipp, the president of the Washington Education Association, said the plan’s heavy reliance on standardized-test scores was too narrow a measure for evaluating a school or district.
She also questioned whether schools in the state’s poorest communities have enough resources to overcome the challenges they face.
Mr. Patrick, the commission chairman, defended the recommendations. He said the panel had considered many different views before releasing them and did not believe they were overly punitive. Rather, he said the measures were “gentle but firm.”
The legislature, which would have to enact the recommendations into law, is expected to examine them during its 2001 term, beginning in January.
A version of this article appeared in the November 22, 2000 edition of Education Week as Wash. State Panel Recommends Tougher Accountability