Department honored for Differentiated Accountability work
An Iowa Department of Education bureau has been honored by the Council Bluffs Community School District for its collaborative work as part of the state's new Differentiated Accountability system.
The Department’s Bureau of School Improvement received the district’s Partners in Education Awards, presented during a back-to-school event for Council Bluffs staff.
Differentiated Accountability is an accountability model designed to provide support for public school districts, accredited nonpublic schools, and Area Education Agencies (AEAs) when and where they need it most. Site visits for accreditation and improvement are now focused on need. If a district is performing well, it may receive no visit, enabling districts with more needs to receive more coaching.
DA was launched in a pilot program this past year, and Council Bluffs volunteered to be one of the participants.
One thing that struck the Council Bluffs team was how different the site visit was to the previously prescriptive site visits from days of old. The central focus of visits through the DA process is collaboration.
“For us, this is a really different thing,” said Council Bluffs Superintendent Martha Bruckner. “The bureau really has changed the concept of site visits from something that was simply compliance to ‘how can we help you?’”
That’s a notable change from the past. Initially, the Council Bluffs team was leery.
“We kind of went into it with our arms crossed, lacking some confidence there that it would be really beneficial to us,” Bruckner said. “As the three-day visit went on, we started to really appreciate it. By the third day, we started really understanding some of the work we had to do.”
Amy Williamson, chief of the Department’s Bureau of School Improvement, and her team noticed the tension.
“The district was very genuine and honest with us during the visit,” Williamson said. “They told us they really did not want us to visit when we got there, but they changed their minds and decided they found the process helpful and not threatening or condescending in any way.”
“What they did was open the door to help us realize that we needed to do some work,” Bruckner said. “They kept saying ‘we are not here to tell you what to do. We are here to help your team to do the best you can.’ Once they lit that fuse, they stood back in the room and watched it happen.”
The end result of the site visit was that the Council Bluffs team decided they needed to retool their literacy approach – something they did in two short months.
“The Department and their Area Education Agency partners were here to facilitate and let us determine what it was that we needed to do,” Bruckner said.
With the pilots done, Differentiated Accountability will roll out statewide in the coming year.
“Among the districts where DA has really taken hold include Red Oak, Carroll, Centerville and Waterloo,” Williamson said. “The superintendent at Nashua-Plainfield also has great things to say about the process, and Green Hills AEA had a great experience.”
Williamson said of all the pilots, only one school district said the DA process was not helpful.
“We are working with that district to determine what didn’t go well for them and what we can do to make the process work for them,” she said.
The Differentiated Accountability process replaces the former mandate of on-site accreditation reviews every five years by the Department.
In determining whether a school or district needs a site visit, schools throughout the state annually complete for the Department what are called desk audits in which schools submit information about their compliance with state and federal law. Schools also submit data to determine the overall health of a school or district.
Read more on the Differentiated Accountability webpage.