Testimony to DC Council Committee of the Whole Hearing on Agency Performance Oversight (for ALL education agencies, including DME, OSSE, PCSB & DCPS)

Thank you Chairman Mendelson and Members of the Committee of the Whole for this opportunity. My name is Jessica Sutter and I am honored to represent Ward 6 on the DC State Board of Education. I offer this testimony today as an individual.

I am grateful today for the work of the many education agencies charged with supporting our schools and the students and families of the District. I appreciate the time and effort leaders and staff of those agencies have dedicated to help us all navigate this most challenging and unusual year of school.

As you review the hundreds of pages of oversight responses from the DME, OSSE, PCSB, and DCPS, and prepare to ask their leaders questions tomorrow, you have a tremendous amount of ground to cover. I am sure you will hear the word transparency from a lot of witnesses today. Access to information for the public is essential. However, I ask that you focus some of your oversight questions on another essential word: CLARITY.

One common charge among all education agencies is communication with the public. And one thing all education agencies could have done better this year is communicate clearly with the public- proactively, in straightforward language, and in a timely manner.

There is growing distrust between the public and our education agencies. Unclear communication furthers this distrust. People feel like messages have been crafted specifically to obfuscate. If we do not make the effort to be clear — and honest about what we do and do not know at a given moment in time — we cannot be surprised when the public expresses a lack of trust in our messages.

When will the remainder of teachers be able to be vaccinated? How many more students will be able to return to in-person learning in Term 4? When will summer programming be announced? None of those questions requires a complex answer, but too often generate multi-paragraph responses.

Some information is complex. OSSE recently announced to LEAs that it would seek a one-year waiver from the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requirements around assessments.

What the public heard was: “OSSE cancelled PARCC” Advocates have praised it. And parents who I hear from tell me they’re delighted that the state will not test students this year.

A more accurate & clear communication might have said to the public: “OSSE is seeking a waiver from PARCC testing this spring. It will be a few weeks before we have an answer from the US Department of Education. If they do not grant our waiver, we will proceed with our alternative plan which is…”

Clarity is most important when the information to be conveyed is complex. People can understand the complexities of federal policy when they are explained by the experts. What is good teaching if not the clear explanation of complex information to diverse audiences? Our education agencies are full of educators and they know well how to clearly explain complex content — it must be core to their work.

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Official @dcsboe account for Jessica Sutter, Ward 6 Member of the DC State Board of Education. #Ward6 #Ward6schools

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Jessica Sutter

Jessica Sutter

Official @dcsboe account for Jessica Sutter, Ward 6 Member of the DC State Board of Education. #Ward6 #Ward6schools

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