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Iowa to include student feedback in ESSA school accountability

The U.S. Department of Education has until January to approve or deny Iowa’s plan. If approved, Iowa plans to conduct the survey annually beginning in spring 2018.
The U.S. Department of Education has until January to approve or deny Iowa’s plan. If approved, Iowa plans to conduct the survey annually beginning in spring 2018.

Iowa intends to survey students on school climate as part of its Every Student Succeeds (ESSA) accountability plan. If approved, students in grades 3 through 12 would be asked to rank how strongly they agree with statements such as “My teachers care about me,” and “My school building is kept in good condition.”

“ESSA gave us a real opportunity to look at performance beyond test scores, and take a more well-rounded approach,” says Staci Hupp, a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Education. “This is going to be one more piece of the picture for schools, in terms of helping them improve.”

ESSA requires states to include at least one measure of school quality or student success in accountability systems. The Conditions for Learning survey selected by Iowa is designed for students, staff and parents, but only the student component would count toward accountability.

The staff and parent surveys would be optional for schools to administer.

Moving forward

The U.S. Department of Education has until January to approve or deny Iowa’s plan. If approved, Iowa plans to conduct the survey annually beginning in spring 2018.

The survey, which also focuses on issues such as safety and classroom engagement, could be another tool that alerts superintendents to participation and culture issues at their schools, Hupp says.

“It’s not designed to make or break a school’s overall results. It’s about helping a school identify secondary contributors to academic results,” Hupp says.

The reliability question

Illinois and North Dakota are the only other states that include student surveys in their ESSA accountability systems, though other states have explored the idea, says Phillip Lovell, vice president of government relations and policy development at the Alliance for Excellent Education.

“Most states have not seen that the measures have been quite ready for prime time,” Lovell says. “Fundamentally, the states want to measure things that are important to kids, teachers and parents, including safety, engagement and school environment.”

The question is how to get the most accurate picture of every school in a district—an ESSA requirement.

“If everyone does really well or really poorly, it’s not telling us anything about how one school does relative to another,” Lovell says.

Results can also be distorted.

“Everyone wants to have the highest score,” Lovell says. “This information is really important to be used when it comes to figuring out what’s actually happening in local schools, but it seems like it might be a better option if you could get data without making it high-stakes.”