This is the second in a four-part series exploring how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted education. COVID-19 has raised long-term questions about how our education system operates and how best it can serve its students, especially students of color, low-income students, and students with learning differences. Many of these questions demand action from federal policymakers to ensure we don’t return to the same approaches that have perpetuated systemic inequities for generations. KnowledgeWorks encourages ongoing discussion on these questions in the coming school year – and beyond.
Did COVID-19 create an accountability pause or a reset?
Due in part to the inability to test this past spring, states were forced to seek permission from the U.S. Department of Education to freeze accountability determinations for schools. This meant that new schools would not be identified for interventions, and schools for which interventions have caused improvement will continue to be classified as struggling. While every educator wants to direct resources to the schools (and the students in these schools) that need help, this period of suspended animation does little to practically address challenges of improving lower performing schools.
In addition to gaps in testing data, states use of certain accountability measures such as attendance will likely be outdated as the nation continues to struggle with COVID-19. If school buildings remain closed, or schools are operating under hybrid in-person / online learning modes, the concept of attendance as an accountability measure is no longer valid.
These COVID-19 data challenges combined with growing sentiments from state leaders that current accountability systems do not align to personalized and competency-based education systems presents a perfect storm for federal policymakers. Instead of waiting for the storm to pass, policymakers should take advantage of the moment to consider a new approach to K-12 accountability systems. Our goal should be the creation of a multiple-measures dashboard – designed in collaboration with decisionmakers at every level of the system – that provides rich information on school quality and system performance so stakeholders can act to ensure the system provides a high-quality, personalized education for every student.