RD425 - A New Virginia School Improvement Model – October 1, 2021
In October 2020, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) concluded an audit of several Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) departments, including the Office of School Quality (OSQ). In its report, Operations and Performance of the Virginia Department of Education, JLARC confirmed the need for the OSQ to change its approach to school improvement and recommended additional staffing to implement a differentiated support model. In response to the JLARC recommendations, the General Assembly directed VDOE:
"...develop a plan to implement an effective and appropriately-resourced school improvement program. The plan should specify the activities necessary for its Office of School Quality to provide effective support to school divisions in the school improvement program, and the number of state staff and funding required to effectively implement the planned activities. The plan should also define performance measures that will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the services its Office of School Quality provides to school divisions and how it will evaluate performance compared to those measures and make changes as needed to ensure ongoing effectiveness. The department shall submit the plan for the state's more effective and appropriately-resourced school improvement program to the Board of Education and the Chairs of the House Education and Appropriations committees and Senate Education and Health and Finance and Appropriations committees no later than November 1, 2021." (Item 140.C of the 2021 Appropriation Act)
Currently, the OSQ is part of the Division of School Quality, Instruction and Performance, with the OSQ Director reporting to the Deputy Superintendent and Chief of Staff. Recognizing that school quality is the responsibility of all VDOE departments while assigned to daily management by OSQ, in September 2020, the State Superintendent elevated the OSQ Director to a cabinet-level position. The OSQ's current personnel structure is 12 employees, including the director, associate director, secretary, and a mix of federal and state school improvement coordinators and specialists. The current ratio of one OSQ personnel to twenty-two schools requiring assistance has severely restricted the VDOE's ability to move beyond a compliance-focused approach to a school improvement model.
The OSQ has more schools per staff in need of improvement than comparable offices in neighboring states. For example, North Carolina has one staff per eight schools, and Kentucky employs a one-to-one ratio. The JLARC report also articulated the impact of this model on employee satisfaction within the OSQ. VDOE's challenge was to transform the OSQ into an office that partners with schools in a way that is responsive to their differentiated needs, builds school divisions' overall capacity, and effects school improvement at scale. Many changes in the model of support and approach have occurred over the year; however, additional capacity remains a need.
VDOE presented its plan to the Virginia Board of Education (Board) during its April 2021 business meeting. To ensure alignment to federal and state law the plan was informed by the Board’s Regulations Establishing Standards for the Accreditation of Public Schools in Virginia, section 8VAC20-131-400 titled Application of the School Quality Indicator Performance Levels to Actions that defines the requirements for schools based on their School Quality Indicators and the U. S. Education Department’s Every Student Succeeds Act. Specifically,
• All schools receive level I, level II, or level III designations based on Academic Achievement, Achievement Gaps and Student Engagement and Outcomes data.
• A school rating of level III on any indicator, or level II for Academic Achievement indicators in (English, mathematics or science), triggers the need for VDOE’s involvement in implementing school improvement requirements for identified schools.
• Every Students Succeeds Act is based on state accreditation data that federally identifies schools for School Improvement Grant funding.
The proposed plan is also aligned with Priority #3 of the Board’s Comprehensive Plan, “Ensure successful implementation of the Profile of a Virginia Graduate and the accountability system for school quality as embodied in the revisions to the Standards of Accreditation" and the VDOE’s Goal #1 of its Strategic Plan, “Ensure student success and school quality."