Endless Summer…of ESSA Implementation


June 22, 2016

By Marianne Lombardo

ESSA chalk


This is the 10th ESSA implementation update in a series.
To see all posts on ESSA implementation, click here.
To see our interactive 50-state ESSA implementation map, click here.


Early Learning. Democratic leaders Patty Murray (D-WA) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) sent a letter to Education Secretary King and Health and Human Services Secretary Burwell pushing for ambitious plans to maximize early learning under the Every Student Succeeds Act. They want to be sure that: 1) The two agencies work well together (Congress insisted that HHS, rather than ED, receive the funding) and, 2) States design strong plans to increase coordination between early learning and the K-12 system. The ultimate goal is universal access to high-quality preschool. (Here’s to hoping “access” considers affordability, as the annual cost of preschool exceeds annual college tuition in 23 states.)


Learning from the Past. Hechinger’s Emily Richmond analyzes how the NCLB act’s legacy informs ESSA. NCLB “wins” include shining a light on subgroups and the standardized reporting of graduation rates, but states failed to enact corrective actions – specifically school choice and tutoring – with efficacy. Richmond questions: “Will ESSA be much different?”


ESSA Engagement Guide. Despite being at odds on ESSA accountability during consideration of the legislation, the two major teachers unions and some key civil rights have come together in “Let’s Get this Conversation Started: Strategies, Tools, Examples and Resources to Help States Engage with Stakeholders to Develop and Implement their ESSA Plans.” The document, among other things, stresses – rightly – that civil rights groups be among the stakeholders involved in the development of state plans. Noticing this wasn’t an explicit requirement in law, DFER/ERN included it in our public comments to the Department, and we’re happy to see it included in proposed regulation §299.15(a) Consultation and Coordination.


Four Approaches to ESSA Accountability. Fordham’s Mike Petrilli and Brandon Wright describe four worldviews about state education accountability systems: 1) Every School is O.K.! (embraced by teachers unions), 2) Attack the Algorithms (school inspectors), 3) Scholar’s Paradise (scale scores & growth ala Morgan Polikoff), and 4) NCLB-Extended (civil rights coalition’s focus on achievement gaps). The authors prefer option 3 and, troublingly but not surprisingly, seem to discount the need for education policy to promote education equity for traditionally underserved students.




Alaska. Alaska’s new education commissioner Michael Johnson comes from a rural district with fewer than 500 students. His first order of business is a federal waiver for state assessments canceled this year. EdCentral’s “Alaska to the Department: We’ll Take your Money, But Not Your Oversight,” details the state’s testing inconsistency and the clause in HB 156 – which has been passed by the legislature but, at this writing, has not been signed by the Governor – stating that if the USDOE provides notice that it will withhold funding if Alaska doesn’t administer statewide assessments, then districts will be required to administer assessments. In other words, “We’re ready and willing to violate the law, just so long as there are no consequences. But if there are consequences…let’s forget about it.” This State v. Feds stand off is definitely one to watch.


California. Parents in California won’t be exclaiming “Eureka! I found it!” but instead, will be scratching their heads to figure out if a school is good or not. That’s because the Governor, the State Board of Education, and the California School Boards Association are adamant that California’s performance dashboards not culminate in a single summative rating, as required in proposed ESSA regulations. (Stanford’s Thomas Dee and UCLA’s Eva Baker take differing views.) The 74 begins a three-part series examining California’s approach to education data and school accountability.


Colorado. It was a win for education advocacy and civil rights groups in Colorado. A broad coalition of 23 groups, including DFER Colorado, got the State Board to back off a proposal that would have lumped students into super subgroups rather than report subgroup performance separately as required in ESSA.


Washington, DC. DC’s State Board of Education has been holding meetings in every ward to get stakeholder feedback on ESSA implementation. A mother explained her frustration: “We need to make sure that there’s housing that’s affordable for everyone in every ward so we can have some kind of diversity. It’s all based on where you live, and if you can’t afford to live in upper Northwest, where the schools are going to be better, then it’s going to be all rich, white kids going to that school. I’m not sure if ESSA takes this all into account.” It’s notable that the State Education Agency, which has the responsibility under ESSA to convene stakeholders and incorporate their input, has not made public its plans.


Illinois. The Illinois State Board of Education shared findings from the eleven ESSA Listening tours they held across the state. It’s a strange document. Almost wholly anecdotal, it contains virtually no data. What’s more, the report is prefaced by this gem of a qualifier: “Listening tour analysis was conducted on notes taken by experienced note takers, and the analysis was informed by training in qualitative coding methods from experienced coders. These notes, however, may be susceptible to note-taker and analyst biases.” According to the report, “some administrators expressed concern about measures that compare the school’s growth to the growth rates of other schools.” Not acknowledged? One of the key purposes of the law is to compare performance across schools.


Ohio. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute does a deep dive into how ESSA will change Ohio’s School Report Cards. Looking at both ESSA law and the proposed regulations, Jessica Poiner finds that although there’s a “tremendous amount of new data” – e.g. data disaggregated by homeless students, foster care students, and children of active duty military personnel subgroups, civil rights data such as exclusionary discipline and chronic absenteeism, data on federal, state and local per-pupil expenditures and the number and percent of students taking alternative assessments, and disaggregated data on higher education enrollment – Ohio just needs some tweaks in a few areas because it’s got a pretty strong foundation.


Tennessee. “We’re in a transition phase,” Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen told the audience at least five times during a five-hour meeting in Nashville.  Problems with TNReady led the state to cancel the test for most students, end the contract with Measurement Inc., and look for a replacement by July 1st. The need for stability and consistency is paramount as the state focuses on the new accountability system under ESSA. Also in Tennessee, the Comptroller of the Treasury’s Office of Research and Education Accountability breaks down ESSA into six key categories and provides a timeline.


Texas. Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced that due to delays in getting state assessment (STAAR) results back from ETS, retesting is canceled and student consequences (e.g. promotion/retention) attached to these exams are suspended. Local districts will have to use their own discretion to determine which students need accelerated instruction (e.g. summer school), which is required when students struggle to demonstrate grade-level proficiency. STAAR test results will still be used for school accountability purposes. The Commissioner states, “I apologize for the continuing problems our students and staff are being forced to deal with because of ongoing reporting issues with our testing vendor. Kids in the classroom should never suffer from mistakes made by adults.  We intend to hold the vendor, Educational Testing Service, accountable.”


Washington. Eighty educators and community members attending the third public forum hosted by the state department of education were asked to consider: “What school characteristics are most important? How should school success be measured? How do we ensure that every school is successful?” The audience had several questions about school funding. “Let’s talk about kids as human beings and people,” deputy superintendent of K-12 education Mendoza said. “Equity is this: We give each and every student what he or she needs to be successful.” Meanwhile, Marysville Education Association director Randy Davis mis-informs the public that under ESSA, districts can use their own, rather than state, standards.


Wisconsin. The public is invited to participate in ESSA listening sessions. “We need classroom teachers, school administrators, parents, and our partners in communities throughout Wisconsin to engage in the important conversations about public education,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “We want to learn from those in the trenches about what works and where we can make improvements so our state plan can incorporate our shared experiences and values.”