As Colorado schools began approaching the end of the state’s five-year accountability calendar, the Colorado Department of Education wanted to ensure that its review process was transparent, consistent, and fair.
As part of the Educational Accountability Act of 2009, Colorado established a State Review Panel (SRP) to evaluate the progress of schools and districts which had been placed on a five-year improvement timetable. The annual evaluation had, until 2014, involved only document reviews conducted by members of the State Review Panel. As the five-year accountability timetable was coming to a close for the first cohort of schools identified under the law as Turnaround or Priority Improvement, CDE wanted to develop a process to conduct more extensive on-site reviews before final decisions were made.
“They were trying to establish a clear process that is consistent and transparent,” says Georgia Lieber, one of two SchoolWorks project managers who worked with CDE on the process. “A group of involved educators from across the state had promoted the idea of incorporating site visits into the decision-making process, and CDE sought us out to help with the design, train panelists, coordinate their activities, and oversee their work to ensure quality and consistency.”
SchoolWorks was selected to manage the site review process and coordinate the activities of the State Review Panel. SchoolWorks had previously collaborated with CDE on other projects such as formative site visits for struggling schools, and on exploratory work to inform the initial design of the State Review Panel site visits. This work informed its new role refining and overseeing the State Review Panel accountability process; recommendations of the State Review Panel are ultimately submitted to the State Board of Education for final approval.
SchoolWorks initially helped CDE develop a site visit protocol for schools entering the fifth and final year of the accountability process. The State Review Panel conducted two pilot visits during the 2013-14 school year, after which the protocol was revamped for the formal site visits the following year.
An emphasis was placed on collecting evidence aligned to the state’s accountability criteria and training State Review Panel members on how to use it, according to Lieber. “Relying on their professional expertise, we are giving them guidance on how to align their evidence to the six key areas outlined in the Education Accountability Act, use that evidence to support their findings, and ultimately, to use these findings to make a recommendation to the Commissioner and the State Board of Education,” she says.
Along with serving as a thought partner to CDE as it developed and refined the site visit process, SchoolWorks is providing quality assurance for the review process, overseeing panelists’ work and facilitating discussions about the results.
SchoolWorks oversaw roughly 40 site visits in schools and districts for CDE in 2014-15. While the accountability process is currently on hold, CDE is allowing schools which received a visit last year to request optional site visits this year to assess further improvements.
“From co-designing protocols to coordinating field work, SchoolWorks has been an invaluable partner throughout this process,” says Lisa Medler, CDE’s executive director of improvement planning. “They have helped us take what is in law and create a functioning and dynamic system in a relatively short amount of time.”
While the reviews are evaluative, schools and districts report that the process has helped them better understand the accountability measures and identify areas for improvement. This includes having clear criteria around which schools self-reflected and organized around in preparation for the visit, comprehensive document review and site visit feedback forms, and ultimately recommendations that explain the panelists’ interpretation of the data they reviewed.
“The majority of schools and districts have valued that it wasn’t just evaluation from afar,” Lieber says. “The site visits allowed schools and districts to show off the improvement work they are doing.”