ESSA Implementation Update: Shining a Light on Persistent Disparities


June 9, 2016


A light shined on persistent disparities. The newest Civil Rights Data Collection shows students of color, English learners, and students with disabilities are not getting the same opportunities to learn as their counterparts who are white, whose first language is English, or who do not have disabilities. “This is one of the reasons I am excited by the opportunity offered by the new Every Student Succeeds Act. It makes clear the obligation our schools and states have to ensure that all students have access to an excellent education that prepares them to succeed in college and careers. It also makes clear that ESSA’s Title I funds are to be used to provide the additional support needed to make that happen,” says Secretary of Education John King. is partnering with USDOE to get this equity information out to parents.

N-size. ESSA allows states to set their own minimum subgroup size (or “N”) to measure student performance among various subgroups. The proposed regs give a strong nudge toward setting it at 30 or lower. The Alliance for Excellent Education argues it should be “10” so that schools can’t mask the performance of smaller subgroups of students while still respecting student privacy in the smallest of cases. That’s also the number recommended by this National Center for Education Statistics report as well as this report from the Office for Civil Rights. This, like other issues at stake, will be a litmus test showing which states are serious about tackling inequities.

Cheat sheet for Proposed ESSA Accountability Rules. Andrew Ujifusa breaks down key ESSA policy considerations, providing: 1) What ESSA says in statutory language, 2) How the proposed ESSA regulations handle the issue, and 3) Some of the reactions to the proposed regulations.

August 1 Deadline to comment on Proposed Rulemaking. Do it here.

In the States

Alaska. The Alaska state legislature has passed a bill that would suspend all standardized testing in the state until the year 2020. The legislation now awaits the Governor’s signature. The state seems to be knowingly and willingly entering a game of “chicken” with the federal government. David Boyle of the Alaska Policy Forum: “We get about $100 million of federal aid in education. If we don’t have a standardized test because of our NCLB (No Child Left Behind) waiver, they can pull all that money back. So in the bill, [the legislators] put, we’re not going to do standardized testing until the 2020 school year; however, if the federal government pulls back some of their education money, or a portion of it, then we’ll change our mind. We’ll have to do something else.”

Arkansas. The Arkansas Board of Education and Education Commissioner Johnny Key assembled a stakeholder group to help select a consultant that will work to increase collaboration and coordination among traditional public schools and independently operated, publicly-funded charter schools. One of their first tasks will be to define a “high-quality school,” which will contribute to the state’s broader efforts to develop a statewide system of evaluating school performance under ESSA. One member stated: “I feel like I’ve been dropped into a pot that is in full boil.” The stakeholder group’s meetings are open to the public, live-streamed, and recorded and posted on the state Education Department website,

Colorado. After pressure from national, state, and local civil rights and advocacy groups, the Colorado State Board of Education backed off a proposal to lump historically groups of students together when determining school performance ratings. Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, released a strongly-worded statement earlier this week in response to Colorado’s Department of Education’s proposed use of what are often referred to as “super subgroups”. “Colorado’s proposal isn’t a plan for accountability; it’s a plan of obfuscation. The Colorado Department of Education’s proposal is illegal, secretive, misleading, and dangerous for Colorado’s children. The Colorado plan is exactly the kind of sleight of hand that has stymied educational equity for generations.” EdPost covered the controversy, and 22 stakeholder groups, including DFER, explained why they wanted Colorado to reverse its original position. A great win for equity and accountability in the Rocky Mountain State.

Indiana. Governor Mike Pence has reversed course and decided to apply for new federal dollars available under ESSA to expand the state’s pre-K system. Pence explained in a letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell that he had promised state legislators that he would not try to expand the program until and unless there was evidence that it was working. Pence cited “highly collaborative efforts” between state agencies, local leadership, pre-K programs, and families as reasons for his decision to go ahead with further expansion.

Texas. The Texas Association of School Boards reportedly told a group of local leaders in Longview, Texas that it would like to use flexibility under ESSA to move away from statewide standardized tests in favor local portfolios, projects or extended performance tasks. Senior TASB consultant Bill Rutherford seemed to be glossing over large swaths of the new law that all students in the state be administered the same assessments and that require comparability of assessment results across all schools and districts. But are the horses already out of the barn? (For further reading on the issue of local assessments, see “Local Assessments Present Serious Excellence and Equity Problems”.)

Wyoming. State Superintendent Jillian Balow put out a call for public input into the state’s ESSA plan. “Our goal is to strengthen and leverage our accountability system as we implement ESSA, and we will need meaningful input from all stakeholders to get that accomplished.” Anyone interested can make comments online or take part in any of five virtual town hall meetings.