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Commentary: We need an accountability system that will clearly communicate how schools are doing

Guest contributor | September 30, 2016

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Middle school science teacher Tunji Adebayo was honored by Teach For America at Monday night's benefit.

Tunji Adebayo

By Tunji Adebayo

The California State Board of Education just adopted a new accountability system acknowledging that the quality of a school is about more than just test scores. Parents will now have access to vital measures that provide them with greater insight into how a school may serve their child, such as college preparedness, language growth among English language learners and the rate at which students are suspended.

This more nuanced accountability system is an important step forward for our state, but it’s equally important to recognize how we got here. Before the board voted, they listened to a diverse group of more than 100 parents, students and teachers like me from across the state.

Before I made the trip to Sacramento, I asked my students at View Park Preparatory Charter High School in Los Angeles to vote if I should stay and teach that day or if I should share my thoughts with the board of education. My students voted for me to testify to ensure that our voices be heard.

So I told the board that we need an accountability system that will provide families with clarity and equity. I spoke about Marco’s mom, who works multiple jobs and has half the eighth-grade education Marco has achieved. Marco’s little sister once translated his mother’s question to me, “What high school should Marco go to?” An equitable accountability system is one where Marco’s mom could easily understand the performance of schools in her district to make the right educational choice for her son.

I also told them about my mentee Jayson’s mother, who deserves to know that the school he attends potentially performs in the bottom 20 to 30 percent of schools statewide. An equitable system would give her the tools and information to help her steer her son to greater educational opportunity.

And I shared with them my perspective as a teacher. We need a system that acknowledges that more than the bottom 5 percent of schools need support to improve. We need an accountability system that will clearly communicate how schools are doing and how student subgroups are doing in order to improve outcomes for all students. With a clear system in place, we can have an honest conversation about how schools are doing, and get creative about how we can better meet the needs of students like Marco and Jayson.

I returned to my students, following the state board’s vote, with two key lessons. First, that standing up for what you believe in is always worth the effort, and second, that you have to keep speaking up to achieve significant and lasting change.

Our work to create a more equitable school system is far from over. The accountability system the state board ratified does not go far enough in providing clarity and transparency for teachers or parents, but incorporating multiple measures is a step in the right direction. As I often tell my students though, the struggle and work continue, and it’s critical that those in power keep hearing the voices from those of us who are closest to students–parents and teachers.

In the months to come, a great number of decisions will be made at the state level that will shape how we measure, support and hold schools accountable. Not only will we need to further develop our new accountability system – determining how to measure certain performance indicators, for example – but we will also have to make sure it works coherently and in concert with the accountability expectations outlined in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the new federal law our president signed to replace No Child Left Behind.

Over the next year, we will have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape our school system to ensure that it more equitably serves students like Marco and Jayson, but whether we will succeed in doing so is far from certain. If we are to truly transform our schools for the better, teachers, parents and students must be active participants in an honest and collaborative process. The reality that the teachers and parents who joined me in Sacramento know is that closing gaps in access, resources and achievement in our district is no easy task. But it is the definition of equity, and we certainly can’t rise to the challenge without acknowledging where we are and where we need to go as an education system.

When I returned to school after my trip to Sacramento, I told my students about the meeting, but more importantly, I told them about the diverse people who were there speaking on behalf of students and families across the state. The students, parents, teachers and other community members at the meeting understand the collective impact of speaking up for our students. There is still work to be done to ensure equity is woven through the state’s policies, but together we can ensure these policies work for students and the communities that surround them.

Tunji Adebayo is a teacher at View Park Preparatory Charter High School in Los Angeles and a member of Educators 4 Excellence-Los Angeles.

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