To all those ‘My-kid-is-more-than-a-test-score’ parents, time to step up and improve schools

There’s no place like home, right? When Dorothy clicked her heels three times, she was immediately transported to familiar ground—her home in Kansas. For many of us, the same sentiment applies to how we make decisions about our schools. Decision-making at the state and local level—home—is important, and many parents and educators have advocated tirelessly for this.

With the passage of the bi-partisan Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which shifted more control over education to states and localities, there was a collective cheer as this decision-making was brought closer to home.

“We are unleashing a new era of innovation and excellence in student achievement—one that recognizes that the path to higher standards, better teaching and real accountability is classroom by classroom, community by community, and state by state—and not through Washington, D.C,” Chairman Lamas Alexander, the Republican who oversees the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, said at the time.

The How is My Kid Doing team learned more about this at the United Way’s National Convening on College- and Career-Readiness. We got to hear from United Way staff from around the country and various stakeholders in the education arena—ranging from the PTA to local school board members and superintendents—as they shared how they’re working together in this new era to ensure that students graduate from high school ready for college and careers.

Under ESSA, local communities now need to step up in improving their schools

Of course, one of the major themes at the convening was  ESSA. Speakers shared their take on how the law shifts responsibility over education to the states and communities. And of how local communities must now step up and assume more responsibility for educating their children.

Assessments are one of the areas under ESSA where local communities are going to have much more of a say than in the recent past. Each state must still test all students in reading and math, in third through eighth grades, and once in high school. And the tests must be aligned with the state’s education standards.

But ESSA also requires that states go beyond reading and math test scores and include a total of at least five factors, including high school graduation rates and progress in learning English for English language learners. In choosing the last two factors (or more, if the state chooses), ESSA gives states a lot of flexibility. States must now include at least two additional measures: another academic indicator for elementary and middle schools and at least one other indicator of student or school success.

So, stakeholders in the states now have the opportunity to select measures of student and school success that are most relevant to their particular state. On the flip side, states also have the serious responsibility to ensure that what they measure is actually related to student success, both in school and in the future.

The role of parents under ESSA: Advocate for better testing at the local level

As parents, it’s important that we follow what is going on in our states around what assessments will be selected to evaluate our kids and our schools. For parents who are bothered by the amount of tests, or the quality of the tests, this is critical. The feds dictate one test a year. Your state decides to create more tests. And your own school district even more. How many, how often, and to what end? It’s on parents to get involved at the local level to advocate for common sense in testing.

Ask your superintendent if he or she knows which tests are being administered. If they don’t, that’s a sign to get involved. Talk to your school’s principal and teacher. Show up at the PTA meeting. Many of you are already doing this. Now, your voice might have more of an impact.

For all of us who claim “My kid is more than a test score,” here’s our chance to work with others at the local level to determine what that “more” will include. 

The next big question under ESSA implementation will be how school accountability systems—how well a school is run and how well it teaches kids—will be set up at the state and local levels.

Let’s all get engaged in this important process.

A version of this blog originally appeared on the How Is my Kid Doing? website.

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Sandra Bishop

Sandra Bishop

Sandra’s interest in child development began at age 2, when her younger brother was born, and was solidified during endless hours of babysitting her three younger siblings and numerous other children during her teen and young adult years. A PhD in child developmental psychology was nearly inevitable. Now a mom, Sandra finally appreciates the relationships among developmental theory, research and real life in exhausting detail. As research lead for How is My Kid Doing, Sandra looks at educational research and helps us understand what it means for parents and their children.

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