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.

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Our many ESSA-related blog posts are listed below.


Fordham's ESSA experts:


High-achieving, well-behaved students learning to code, reciting Shakespeare, engaging in debates about the validity of climate science or the merits of Columbus Day, and taking advanced courses in a welcoming atmosphere—if this is what you see when you’re walking the hallways, it makes sense to call this a good school. Many experts, however, see schools differently. To them, the impact of the teachers and curriculum on the school’s students is the most important thing. In line with this vision, experts and policy wonks tend to lobby for greater focus on student growth measures when holding schools accountable, while families care most about the overall proficiency of the student body. Who is right?

The debate between “growth” and “proficiency” generates a lot of conversation in the education policy world, but what appear to be irreconcilable differences can be resolved if we acknowledge that each metric maps to a valid view of school quality, and that both types of metrics can serve worthwhile, if distinct, functions.

The wonk’s perspective

We wonks—the policy nerds, bureaucrats, and legislators who argue about and, ultimately, design the school ratings formulas that determine whether the school down the block...

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...

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...

Stéphane Lavertu

NOTE: The Thomas B. Fordham Institute occasionally publishes guest commentaries on its blogs. The views expressed by guest authors do not necessarily reflect those of Fordham.

The 2015 reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act—known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—requires states to identify poorly performing public schools and help them improve. Importantly, ESSA grants states flexibility in fulfilling this requirement. That means Ohio has some decisions to make as it creates the state’s accountability plan due to the feds this fall. To inform this decision-making, the Ohio Department of Education commissioned Deven Carlson of the University of Oklahoma and me to use rigorous scientific methods to estimate the impact of recent efforts to turn around struggling schools in Ohio. I write to share the results of this study and to offer some general thoughts on how Ohio might proceed under ESSA.  

Our study focused on two recent “school turnaround” initiatives: Ohio’s administration of the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program beginning in 2009 and its intervention in “priority schools” beginning in 2012. These programs targeted elementary and secondary schools ranked in...

Matthew Di Carlo

Despite the recent repeal of federal guidelines for states’ compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states are steadily submitting their proposals, and they are rightfully receiving some attention. The policies in these proposals will have far-reaching consequences for the future of school accountability (among many other types of policies), as well as, of course, for educators and students in U.S. public schools.

There are plenty of positive signs in these proposals, which are indicative of progress in the role of proper measurement in school accountability policy. It is important to recognize this progress, but impossible not to see that ESSA perpetuates long-standing measurement problems that were institutionalized under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). These issues, particularly the ongoing failure to distinguish between student and school performance, continue to dominate accountability policy to this day. Part of the confusion stems from the fact that school and student performance are not independent of each other. For example, a test score by itself gauges student performance, but it also reflects, at least in part, school effectiveness (i.e., the score might have been higher or lower had the student attended a different school).

Both student and school performance measures have an...

By next week, sixteen states and the District of Columbia will have submitted plans to the U.S. Department of Education to meet their obligations under the Every Student Succeeds Act. These publicly available documents describe how states will satisfy a number of ESSA’s requirements, including those concerning testing, school improvement, and accountability. Unfortunately, just as states mostly squandered ESSA's school improvement flexibility, most of these first seventeen plans don’t do enough to hold schools accountable for meeting the educational needs of high achievers—especially those growing up in poverty.

ESSA affords states a critical opportunity to right many wrongs of No Child Left Behind. A strong accountability system signals to schools that the progress of all students is important, but NCLB failed at this by creating incentives for schools to focus their energy almost exclusively on helping low-performing students get over a modest proficiency bar, while neglecting those who were likely to pass state reading and math tests regardless of what happens in the classroom. This may be why the United States has seen significant achievement growth and improved graduation rates for its lowest performers over the last twenty years but lesser gains for its top students.

The...

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