Testimony of Bonnie O’Keefe, OSSE Performance Oversight Hearing, FY 2012-13

Testimony of Bonnie O’Keefe, Public Policy Analyst
DC Action for Children

Agency Performance Oversight Hearing
Fiscal Year 2012
Office of the State Superintendent of Education

Before the Committee on Education
Council of the District of Columbia

March 15, 2013

Good afternoon, Chairman Catania and members of the Committee on Education. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee as it reviews the performance of the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (“OSSE”) during today’s oversight hearing. My name is Bonnie O’Keefe, and I am a Public Policy Analyst with DC Action for Children and a Ward 5 resident.

DC Action for Children is an advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all children in the District of Columbia have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

DC Action for Children (“DC Action”) provides data-based analysis and policy leadership on critical issues facing DC children and youth. Our vision is of a District where children and youth who are most in need of health, education, safety and financial well-being are receiving competent and equitable services.

Today, with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation to become the home of DC KIDS COUNT, DC Action is the primary source of data on conditions and outcomes for all children and youth in DC. We work closely with city agencies, the school system and providers to get the most accurate and timely data to present clear and accessible analysis. Our public policy agenda is based on this critical data.

We rely on OSSE as a source of critical achievement and quality data on DC schools, and would like to highlight some successes and challenges in obtaining data from OSSE.

School and Student Performance Data

OSSE plays a vital role as the manager and aggregator of data on DCPS and public charter schools. These data allow us to measure achievement trends and determine how well our schools are performing. In the past, DC KIDS COUNT has used publicly available testing and enrollment data to dive deeply into student performance by neighborhood, by grade, by family income and by race/ethnicity. We have appreciated the past responsiveness of Jeff Noel, OSSE’s Director of Data Management, and his team.

But, gaps in publicly available data remain a concern. For example, data on the 2012 DC-CAS is only available at the school level by percent of students proficient, and in summary statistics. While we have asked OSSE for more detailed, grade level score reports, response time has been slow.

If we as a community want to hold our education systems accountable, there must be transparency of data. In OSSE’s application to the federal Department of Education for ESEA flexibility, they wrote that an online data portal powered by the State Longitudinal Education Data system (SLED) would be available to parents and stakeholders by August, 2012. We have not yet seen these results.

Chairman Catania, you mentioned in your testimony at the DCPS oversight hearing that as a city, we should look at models in other jurisdictions for sharing data, and we agree wholeheartedly. We recommend that OSSE and the Council look at Colorado and Delaware as models of interactive school data portals that feature extensive data dashboards and download capability. While we applaud OSSE’s work in ensuring that SLED is internally operational, we would like to see OSSE take the lead in adopting a system to share valuable data with DC families and community stakeholders.

Early Care and Education Performance

OSSE is also responsible for data to help families and public officials evaluate the effectiveness of programs for our youngest learners, age birth to three, and for administering federal grants to these programs.  While OSSE has made some progress in these areas, there is room for improvement.

•    QRIS. A key performance measure for services available to DC families with young children is the Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS) for early care and education (ECE) providers. QRIS rewards high-quality programs with higher subsidies, and gives power to parents searching for the best programs. Without such a system, families and policymakers have no way to reliably judge the quality of early care and education programs across the city, and our children’s education will suffer for it.

While OSSE’s FFY12-13 Child Care Development Fund application touts a revised system for rating and rewarding subsidized child-care providers, OSSE’s website has not been updated to reflect new standards, and current data on program quality across the city is not publicly available.

When DC Action Executive Director HyeSook Chung served as the chair of the former Early Childhood Development Coordinating Council in 2010-11, we had completed the re-launch of the QRIS system. We suggest this committee ask OSSE leaders why public funds were used to create yet another QRIS system in 2012 and why information on that system is still not publicly accessible.

•    EIMS. In 2011, with federal funding, OSSE created the Education Information Management System (EIMS), which was meant to track young children in ECE programs, licensing of center-based programs, child care subsidies and professional development for ECE providers. OSSE reported that this data management system had been completed. We look forward to the public launch of this critical tool.

•    Federal Grants for ECE. Finally, one of OSSE’s most important roles is that of administrator for federal early care and education grants awarded to DC. While the terms of these funds are often extensive, being found in violation could put funding at risk. We urge OSSE to ensure DC programs are in strict compliance with the reporting and performance terms of federal programs including IDEA, Head Start, the Child Care and Development Fund Block Grant, and other grants that fund vital services to DC children and families.

Coordinating a diverse landscape of direct service providers and sub-grantees will require strong leadership from OSSE. We should demand no less when the foundation of our early care and education system is at stake. 

DC Action for Children welcomes the opportunity to work in partnership with you, Chairman Catania, and with all of the members of this committee and your staff, as well as OSSE, to improve outcomes for our youngest citizens. We believe that data must be the anchor to create a city-wide education plan that establishes common and defined outcomes for all children and youth in our city.

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.

Disqus comments