SBOE #EdPolicy Roundup: September 2019

By Sarah Arrington, Policy Fellow

This month, the DC State Board of Education (SBOE) continues its efforts to make education research and policy concepts accessible to all stakeholders in our communities. The September 2019 #EdPolicy Research Roundup features two reports: one from the Education Commission of the States discussing STEAM education and its impact on student success and one from FutureEd that looks at how state testing systems are changing under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

As we have done previously, SBOE will discuss the key findings of each report and explain the implications on the State Board’s work and priorities.

Preparing Students for Learning, Work and Life Through STEAM Education” Education Commission of the States (ECS), Mary Dell’Erba, September 2019

Summary: The Education Commission of the States (ECS) and the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) conducted a study on state policies that include STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) education. They defined STEAM education as “an approach to teaching in which students demonstrate critical thinking and creative problem-solving.” This type of education focuses on learning through experience, exploration, inquiry, and creativity. Specifically with the addition of arts into a more traditional STEM program, they found that students had increased opportunities to practice active learning and divergent thinking, to build social and emotional skills, and to develop cultural competency.

While there are barriers that may hinder a state’s ability to implement this type of program, ECS provides a list of actions that states can take to overcome those barriers:

– Develop a statewide vision and definition of STEAM education. 

– Support teachers and high-quality instruction by implementing targeted professional development for teachers. 

– Build connections between STEAM subjects and other related policy areas. 

– Build capacity by developing a consistent framework for assessment and adjusting schedules to allow for planning across departments and grade levels. 

– Collect data and promote research. 

– Clarify and increase funding pathways that align across school, district, state, and federal leadership.

DC Context: The Well-Rounded Education Committee is a group of State Board members working to ensure that DC students receive a well-rounded education—one that is inclusive of science, art, and social studies. Currently, the Committee is researching how much time elementary school students receive in each of the subjects, as well as the factors that influence the amount of time a teacher is able to spend on the subjects. Committee members are creating baseline data that can be used to aid schools in improving science, art, and social studies curricula. The State Board recognizes the value of these subjects in a well-rounded education and so, is working to elevate the quality of instruction that students receive.

“The New Testing Landscape: How State Assessments are Changing Under the Federal Every Student Succeeds Act” FutureEd (Georgetown University), Lynn Olson, September 2019

Summary: State testing systems are shifting under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) as states move toward designing their own tests that specifically reflect their state standards and the work that students and teachers are doing in classrooms. States are stating that these new tests are more closely linked to what students are able to do and give teachers guidance on how to adjust their instruction according to their students’ needs. Other changes include major shifts to online testing and states adopting college-admissions tests (e.g., SAT, ACT) in the place of their state high school test.

As state testing systems continue to shift, there are new opportunities for innovation as well as concerns in different areas including the diminished ability to compare test results across states—as is done under the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and SmarterBalance consortia. FutureEd highlights trends that are becoming clear in this changing testing climate:

– The marketplace for summative assessments in grades 3–8 has fragmented.

– More states are embracing the ACT and the SAT as their high school assessments despite concerns that the tests are not fully aligned with state standards. 

– While states and the federal government still prioritize the ability to compare student test results within a state, comparing results across states has faded as a dominant goal.

– As a result of PARCC and Smarter Balanced testing consortia, there’s evidence that both the quality and rigor of state tests have risen.

– Constant changes in state assessment systems make it harder to track performance over time, create problems for states and district accountability systems, and send mixed messages to educators.

– Innovation is happening but there’s still more talk than action. 

DC Context: The State Board is working with the Office of State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to ensure that the impact of PARCC is fully understood, analyzed, and evaluated. In 2014, the District of Columbia replaced its previously state-based assessment (DC CAS) with the PARCC. The PARCC has been serving the District’s public schools ever since and information on student’s academic performance and growth is presented on the District’s school report cards (https://dcschoolreportcard.org/). The State Board continues to push for data transparency and reporting when it comes to PARCC results, and fully recognizes that PARCC scores are valuable but only one area in which schools should be evaluated. 

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