ESSA

The Every Student Succeeds Act significantly improves upon No Child Left Behind by, among other things, giving more power back to states and local schools. We’re working to help policymakers and educators take advantage of the law’s new flexibility, especially when it comes to creating smarter school accountability systems, prioritizing the needs of high-achieving low-income students, and encouraging the adoption of content-rich curricula.

Resources:

Our many ESSA-related blog posts are listed below.


Fordham's ESSA experts:


Advocates for gifted and talented education will always face an uphill struggle. Garnering support for policies that, by definition, benefit a small subset of students is hard—and harder when so many people assume that these kids will do fine regardless.

The inevitable—but foreseeable—result is the emaciated condition of programs designed to serve such children in U.S. public schools: scarce, often thin, and frequently staffed by ill-trained educators.

Weakness in gifted education undermines the country’s long-term prosperity. It’s also inequitable and bad for social mobility. The students most harmed are able pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, who depend far more than upper-middle-class students on the public education system to support them.

One partial remedy for this neglect is to ensure that policies that focus on all students truly benefit high achievers, too. Properly crafted, such policies can be significant boons for bright, motivated pupils, while sidestepping the “elitist” label that too often gets applied to gifted-centric initiatives.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) presents just such an opportunity for broad-gauged policy improvement at the state level—and it’s heartening that most of the new state accountability plans for schools under that statute are likely to do some good for...

When Congress enacted the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), shifting much education decision-making back to the states, many reformers, especially on the left, voiced concern that states would give up on rigorous accountability systems. “Federal pressure is a hard thing for people to swallow,” said Conor Williams, a senior researcher at New America, “but this law doesn’t give enough federal pressure for enough schools and doesn’t define the guardrails we need.”

That worry wasn’t unreasonable. Conventional wisdom indicated that opponents of results-based accountability—the teachers unions, superintendents, and other establishment groups, especially—wield enormous power in the states. With many of the “guardrails” of No Child Left Behind removed, nothing would keep vested interests in the education status quo from dismantling consequential accountability. In correcting NCLB’s flaws, states might throw the baby out with the bathwater.

We’re pleased to report that such fears turn out to be mostly unfounded. So we find and document in Fordham’s new study, Rating the Ratings: An Analysis of the 51 ESSA Accountability Plans. While there’s still plenty about the accountability systems of many states to criticize—and implementation challenges lie ahead for all of them—the school ratings at least represent more of...

On September 15, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) submitted its ESSA plan to the U.S. Department of Education. Ohio’s current accountability system meets most of the stipulations of the new federal law. As a result, Ohio’s federal plan doesn’t make that many changes to state practice.

But there is one under-the-radar ESSA provision that could have a significant impact on Ohio. ESSA explicitly says that when calculating four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate, states can only use the percentage of students who earn a regular high school diploma. This diploma is defined as “the standard high school diploma awarded to the preponderance of students in the State that is fully aligned with State standards.” While there’s nothing stopping states from awarding multiple diplomas, the four-year graduation rate that they report to the feds can only be based on a single diploma—whichever one the majority of students earn.

This could have implications for how the state handles graduation for students with special needs, who represent about 15 percent of Ohio students. In a recent presentation to the State Board, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) put it this way:

...

A recent article in Education Week highlighted how an under-the-radar ESSA provision could spell trouble for states with multiple high school diplomas. The provision outlines the definition of a regular high school diploma, which must be used to calculate a state’s four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate. Specifically, the definition of a regular high school diploma is: “the standard high school diploma awarded to the preponderance of students in the State that is fully aligned with State standards.”

The trouble that several states are running into is with the phrase “the preponderance of students in the State.” Preponderance, by definition, means a majority. In the past, some states offering multiple diplomas have calculated their graduation rates by adding up the percentage of students who earn each of the different diplomas. Under ESSA, states will only be permitted to count one of those diplomas—a move that could significantly lower graduation rates.

According to the EdWeek article, the provision was intended to ensure that the diplomas states award are adequately preparing all students. “Advocates for lower-income and minority students, and those with disabilities, were key voices at the table when that section of the bill was being drafted,” EdWeek journalist...

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) grants states more authority over their school accountability systems than did No Child Left Behind (NCLB)—meaning that states now have a greater opportunity to design improved school ratings. In Fordham’s new report, Rating the Ratings: Analyzing the First 17 ESSA Accountability Plans, we examine whether states are making the most of the moment.

In our view, three of the most important improvements that states can make are to ensure that their accountability systems:

  1. Assign annual ratings to schools that are clear and intuitive for parents, educators, and the public;
  2. Encourage schools to focus on all students, not just their low performers; and
  3. Fairly measure and judge all schools, including those with high rates of poverty.

Based on these three objectives, we rate states’ planned accountability systems using the most recent publicly available information. States can earn grades of strong, medium, or weak in each.

Table 1 shows the results for the seventeen plans that have been submitted to the U.S. Department of Education, sixteen of which have enough information for us to rate.

Table 1. Results for states that have submitted plans to the U.S. Department of Education

Confusion abounds as the U.S. Department of Education continues to send mixed signals to states regarding their obligations under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), especially when it comes to school accountability. One question is what’s allowed—and what’s required—with respect to the “academic achievement indicator.” Herewith is an explanation of what’s permitted, what’s smart policy, and how states can avoid triggering federal pushback.

Proficiency rates: Allowed but to be avoided

ESSA Section 1111(c) plainly says that state accountability systems must gauge students’ “academic achievement,” and that this must be measured, at least in part, “by proficiency on...annual assessments.” The simplest—but worst—way to do this is to keep using No Child Left Behind–era proficiency rates. Yet eight of the first seventeen ESSA plans submitted to the Department of Education did just that. Yes, it’s undoubtedly permitted and won’t elicit any pushback from the feds. But it’s also unwise and inequitable.

Measuring school quality via proficiency rates encourages educators to focus on “bubble kids,” those just below or above the proficiency cutoff, to the detriment of other students. But they aren’t the only children who should matter to states. Among those neglected when proficiency...

Austin Estes and Kate Kreamer

In the last few weeks, the first-round submissions of states’ Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans have gotten a lot of attention from national organizations and the federal government. Not wanting to be left out of the fun, Advance CTE and Education Strategy Group joined efforts to write Mapping Career Readiness in State ESSA Plans—Round 1, a review of how states addressed or prioritized career readiness.

Career Technical Education (CTE) can be a powerful platform for student success during and after high school, and in recent years states have made incredible investments in—and commitments to—expanding the quality of and access to CTE and career pathways. Moreover, many provisions within ESSA open the door for, if not flat out encourage, states to integrate CTE into their career readiness metrics.

Given this, in reading through each of the first seventeen plans that have been submitted to the U.S. Department of Education, we were cautiously optimistic that career (and college) readiness would play a prominent role in states’ ESSA plans. Unfortunately, that isn’t exactly the case:

  • Eleven out of the first seventeen submitted plans identified at least one measure of career readiness in their accountability systems.
  • ...

In early June, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) released an updated draft of its ESSA plan for public comment. The department had initially intended to submit its plan earlier this spring, but after heavy pressure, state officials decided to delay submission until September. The most important part of the document is its description of the state’s proposed school accountability and intervention policies. We believe that Ohio’s plan does a good job meeting both federal and state requirements.

Still, Ohio should aim for excellence, if not perfection. Allow me to identify three improvements worthy of consideration before ODE submits its plan to the U.S. Department of Education. These are sections that ODE could likely tweak without running afoul of federal or state law.

Eliminate the Chronic Absenteeism indicator (Title I, Part A: Improving Basic Programs Operated by LEAs—Indicators; lines 428-512)

ODE proposes using Chronic Absenteeism as a new report-card measure to comply with ESSA’s requirement for an indicator of School Quality or Student Success. This is a mistake. While related to student learning, absenteeism is not itself an outcome measure, which should form the basis of school accountability. Attendance should be viewed more akin to an “input”...

Early last week, the Trump administration gave three states feedback on their submitted plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The nature of the comments varied for each state, but those addressed to Delaware inspired some fascinating debates around the rights and limitations of the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) under the new law.

Of particular interest is my colleague Mike Petrilli’s response to the Delaware feedback. He focused on two aspects of the USDOE’s response, in particular: 1) their suggestion that Delaware’s long-term goals for academic achievement weren’t “ambitious” enough and 2) their disapproval about Delaware’s inclusion of performance on AP and IB exams in its ”school quality or student success” indicator.

In reference to long-term goals, Mike argued:

The goals that Delaware submitted in its ESSA plan are extremely ambitious, almost irresponsibly so. In the course of a single generation of students, for example, Delaware is aiming to increase the math proficiency rate for Latino students from about 30 percent to about 65 percent. No state in the country has ever made that kind of progress—and that’s not ambitious enough?

He also pointed out that these kind of “utopian goals” were the...

When it comes to high standards and accountability, Ohio talks a pretty good talk. Many of the most popular education reforms of the day have already been proposed or passed in the Buckeye State, and a few have even been hailed as best in the country. As these policies have been implemented, however, and as sometimes unwelcome consequences begin to kick in, Buckeye policymakers have had a difficult time walking the walk. In fact, they’ve shown a lamentable habit of backing down in the face of pressure to weaken accountability.

Take the ongoing uproar over graduation requirements. Back in November, district superintendents started to warn of a graduation “apocalypse” in which a third of the class of 2018 might fall short of the state’s new and more rigorous graduation requirements. Despite many unanswered questions, the State Board has recommended that students be permitted to graduate regardless of whether they pass end-of-course exams or meet career and technical requirements. Instead, they’ll only need to two of eight conditions, a list that includes such rudimentary achievements as 93 percent attendance or 120 hours of work/community service during their senior year. As my colleagues have pointed out, the...

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