Giving Compass' Take:

• Sarah Berger Sandelius unpacks three key takeaways from the Every Student Succeeds Act in Washington, D.C. related to special education. 

• How can funders best use the wealth of data mandated by ESSA? 

• Learn about Washington, D.C.'s issues with diversity


States across the country recently released the first round of school-level accountability data mandated by the Every Student Succeeds Act, giving the public an unprecedented level of transparency into educational outcomes. Reviewing the data shows that while we’re heading in the right direction, the decisions made by states about how and what to include in these reports are as enlightening as the outcomes the data uncover.

What does this mean for students with disabilities? The Washington, D.C., report cards, based on the School Transparency and Reporting (STAR) Framework, are a helpful case study. Seventeen percent of D.C. students receive special education services, slightly above the national average of 13 percent, and the district’s students overall are almost evenly split between charter and district schools,

The Ability Challenge, a data-driven initiative launching in both D.C. district and charter schools, crunched the numbers to develop a custom 2018 snapshot and multi-year dashboard for each school, and the following three points emerge.

1. Comparing STAR measures for all students vs. students with disabilities shows results that vary considerably.

On virtually all attendance measures, rates for students with disabilities were relatively consistent with those for all students. For example, in-seat attendance hovered around 90 percent for all students, compared with 88 percent for students with disabilities. Eighth-grade promotion rates, re-enrollment, and re-engagement were also fairly consistent.

2. Current metrics obscure the full picture of how some students are faring.

For some metrics, such as standardized assessment scores, STAR does not provide critical information about outcomes of students with disabilities. STAR includes PARCC scores by level for all students, but not for subgroups such as children with disabilities. Subgroup information is reported in the combined metric for proficiency (PARCC/MSAA Level 3 and above; PARCC/MSAA Level 4 and above), but there is no breakdown of how students with disabilities who were not proficient performed on each of those exams.

3. Using data for improvement rather than only as an accountability tool will help all schools improve, especially for our students who need it the most.

While beneficial, there are also consequences in relying heavily on data for accountability – most notably, the desire to game the system to look best on paper. The power wielded by true data analysis and honest reflection is that schools can look critically at what is working and what is not, examine root causes, and correct course when necessary.

Read the full article about takeaways from school data about special education by Sarah Berger Sandelius at The 74.