The PCSB Responds

As the deadline for public comment on the PCSB’s proposed accountability framework for early childhood programs nears (August 28) — and as public reactions to the proposal intensify — PCSB’s executive director, Scott Pearson, published a formal reply to the petition that is asking for greater balance in how schools are evaluated. Here’s Scott’s response:

I appreciate your sharing your concern about assessments in early childhood testing.

It’s important to note that the proposed early childhood PMF was developed in close collaboration with charter school leaders who broadly support this proposal.

Among most important features of the PMF was to incorporate the very assessments that these schools are already giving to students, and that have been used for years for school accountability purposes. Schools may choose from a menu of over two dozen assessments – a menu that includes virtually all of the assessments already used by our schools. These bear little resemblance to “fill in the bubble” tests. They are administered one-on-one, by teachers. They are authentic and designed to be developmentally appropriate and to feel low-stakes for the child.

Let me repeat. All of our schools already use these assessments for accountability purposes. The Early Childhood PMF does not impose new tests. It creates a framework for comparing the results at one school using one test with the results at another school using a different test.

Indeed, far from imposing new assessments, the Early Childhood PMF restricts the use of these assessments. For example many schools currently evaluate their youngest students for literacy and numeracy proficiency. The Early Childhood PMF now looks only at whether these students abilities have improved, not at the absolute proficiency levels of students.

PCSB has a vital role to ensure that charter schools, which are public schools paid for with taxpayer dollars, are high quality. We seek to play this role in a way that preserves the maximum autonomy and flexibility for school leaders to run their schools as they see fit. While every school is different, virtually all agree that the vast number of students who enter the third grade unable to read or perform basic math is a crisis in our city and that a basic function of a school is to prepare students to be literate and numerate.

The core bargain of charter schools is greater autonomy in exchange for greater accountability. This means there will inevitably be high stakes reviews of charter schools. Almost all charter schools prefer to be left alone to develop their own educational programs. High stakes reviews focusing on *how* they run their schools run counter to the philosophy of most of our school leaders. They want the freedom to decide the “how” and to be judged on the outcomes.

While it would be hard to find an educator who did not value the social and emotional development of children, most would also agree that valid assessments of social and emotional progress are not yet well-established. For this reason many school leaders are reluctant to have significant portions of an evaluation of their school be based on an assessment of their students’ social and emotional development. This concern influenced the work the task force developing the Early Childhood PMF.

We take the public comment phase of the process very seriously. The views of those who signed this petition, along with those who submitted comments directly to me and to PCSB, will be taken into account. Beyond this, we recognize that no system of accountability is perfect. For this reason, the committee of schools who designed the Early Childhood PMF will continue to meet to consider ongoing improvements.

We continue to discuss this issue on our blog, which can be found at

Scott Pearson
Executive Director
DC Public Charter School Board

I’m grateful for Scott’s response, though I don’t feel it addresses the central complaint. As I wrote yesterday, “the problem with the PCSB’s proposal has less to do with requiring schools to choose from a common pool of math and reading assessments and more to do with attaching a disproportionate weight (60-80% of the total) to reading and math. This immediately transforms those assessments from diagnostic to accountability tools. It is guaranteed to modify the behavior and strategic planning of the schools. And it perpetuates the shell game of American public education, in which we use partial information to pronounce complete judgment on whether a given reform effort is working or not.”

I don’t see how Scott’s response addresses that central critique. Am I missing something? What do you think needs to be done?


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  1. Posted August 23, 2013 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Sam, I tried to address the issue of the weighting of math and reading in my comments. Let me try again.

    * Schools want to be assessed on outputs, not inputs. Many of the things one would measure other than literacy and numeracy have less-developed (or non-existing) standard assessments. Schools are often nervous about tying their school quality reviews to undeveloped or subjective assessments. And our preference as an authorizer is to tie school reviews to valid, objective, and widely-respected measures.

    * We are open to considering the point that the current weights for literacy and numeracy are too high. We’ve heard that loud and clear from the many who have responded to this petition. Once the public comment period closes we will sit down with our schools and review the comments received.


  2. Posted August 23, 2013 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing this, Scott. I think an issue we need to work through together is whether or not all existing SEL assessments lack validity/reliability. I’m checking with the folks at CASEL to see if they can help shed light on this, which seems to me an essential piece of the equation and any final framework that strikes the best possible balance. And although I know some charters have balked at including SEL, I also know others have insisted on it. So the key question, as you say, boils down to whether the field can help DCPS identify a few for schools to choose from that. I’ll let you know what I learn as soon as I hear back from them, and I assume you have your own ongoing queries as well. Bottom line: we can get this right.

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