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.


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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...

 
 
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...

 
 

Back in November, I praised the Obama Administration’s Every Student Succeeds Act accountability regulations for permitting states to use performance indices in lieu of simple, problematic proficiency rates. Such applause is, of course, water under the bridge after congressional Republicans and President Trump repealed those rules and, instead of replacing them, will rely on promises, “Dear Colleague” letters, and other means that fall short of formal regulation.

Yet new praise is in order for Secretary DeVos et al.’s recently released “State Plan Peer Review Criteria,” which explains the process through which state ESSA plans will gain approval or rejection. It, like the regulations that came and went before it, expressly permits accountability systems that measure student achievement at multiple levels—not just “proficient”—using a performance index.

This is an important—even essential—innovation. Despite the good intentions of No Child Left Behind, which ESSA replaced a year ago, it erred by encouraging states to focus almost exclusively on helping low-performing students achieve proficiency and graduate from high school. Consequently, many schools ignored pupils who would easily pass state reading and math tests and earn diplomas regardless of what happened in the classroom—a particularly pernicious problem for high-achieving poor and minority...

 
 

Nine states and the District of Columbia have submitted plans to the U.S. Department of Education to meet their obligations under the Every Student Succeeds Act. And by May 3, seven more will likely do the same. These submissions describe how states will satisfy a number of ESSA’s requirements, including those concerning testing, accountability, and school improvement. This lattermost issue, which seeks to fix—or better yet replace—failing schools, is among the most important. Yet, in this area, these first plans are a very mixed bag.

Under the law, states must identify and take action on two types of troubled schools: those requiring “comprehensive support and improvement” (the lowest achieving 5 percent of Title I schools, plus high schools with low graduation rates), and those that need “targeted improvement” because they routinely fail a particular group such as low-income, minority, or special education students.

ESSA includes criteria states should use for placing schools in these two buckets, but it is intentionally silent on what they should do about them—even when schools require “rigorous intervention” because less substantial corrections, like counseling and professional development, haven’t lead to adequate improvement after a specified period of time (decided by...

 
 

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