Is DeVos Sending Mixed Messages on Advanced Courses and Accountability?

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Post By: Education Week

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos seems to be sending some confusing signals when it comes to whether states will be allowed to use Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate tests, the SAT, dual-enrollment courses, or career certifications to figure out if students are ready for college and the workforce, some experts say.

Rating schools based on whether they get kids ready for college and the workforce was all the rage in state's plans to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act. And at least eight states—that's about half of the 17 that have turned in plans so far—want to use AP, IB the SAT, dual enrollment courses, or career certifications for accountability.

The problem? It's unclear if DeVos is cool with that, even though she has said she will make local control a big focus of ESSA implementation. What's more, some experts worry that her team may be telling different states different things when it comes to how they measure college and career readiness.

Here's how this became an issue: Delaware, like almost every state, wants to rate schools based on whether they get kids ready for college and career. To measure that, the districts can use AP test scores, IB test scores, and whether students hit certain targets on the SAT. Districts can also consider whether students have earned a B or better in a college-level course.

And to prove career-readiness, Delaware districts can use scores on military or technical education exams, or examine whether a student has successfully completely some sort of work-based learning experience. (Geeks can check pages 36 and 37 of Delaware's application to see all this in black and white.)

The department dinged Delaware for this in a recent feedback letter, saying, essentially, that its approach may not pass muster if not all schools offer AP and IB, and if a significant percentage of kids don't take the tests.

"I am confused by this feedback, for sure," said Anne Hyslop, who served in the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration and is now a senior associate at Chiefs for Change. She said that as long as states have set a consistent definition of what it means for kids to be college-and-career ready, they could allow districts to demonstrate it in different ways. Otherwise, only states that offer AP, ACT, or the SAT to all their students would be able to use college and career readiness in their systems.

The answer may matter to more than just Delaware. Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Massachusetts, Nevada, and New Mexico want to use a mix of AP, IB, dual enrollment, and other advanced coursework for accountability.

Chu finds the extensive feedback states are getting from DeVos' department to be "fascinating" given that the secretary said she was all about local control. "The signals are all over the place. If I were a state, I would selfishly just ignore some of this stuff and say we're going to do the plan we want to do."

Already, Chris Minnich, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers has complained about the department's ESSA approach, saying it goes beyond what's in the law. In fact, his statement on the issue specifically brought up the AP/IB/dual enrollment question.

VIEW Video: ESSA Explained in 3 Minutes