ESSA Implementation Update: Feelings, Woh-oh-oh, Feelings


July 6, 2016


Today, the U.S. Department of Education released two sets of proposed rules on ESSA assessments. The first set covers issues related to state assessment requirements in Title I, Part A and reflects consensus positions reached previously through negotiated rule-making. The second set, brand new, is a notice for proposed rule-making for the provisions in Title I, Part B that authorize the Secretary to oversee an innovative assessment demonstration project in up to seven states. See USDOE’s Fact Sheet for Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: Title I, Part A and Part B, as well as a previous post from us here on the potential benefits and pitfalls of this new pilot program.

Related: ESSA Implementation: Local Assessment Pilots Present Serious Excellence and Equity Problems

School Climate – once we get information, how are we going to use it? The 2017 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) will survey students on how they feel about school (see sample questions below at the bottom of the post). Researchers plan to create an index testing the relationship between grit and academic achievement. But analyzing this information and using it to evaluate schools are two different things, and the latter is concerning socio-emotional learning experts. Responding to California’s CORE districts’ accountability system that incorporates measures on students’ social and emotional well-being, Angela Duckworth, who popularized “grit,” argues that self-assessments have no objective standard. Carol Dweck, who wrote about the “growth mindset,” warns against using mindsets as accountability measures, potentially leading to situations where teachers and schools praise a student, for example, to make them feel good but they’re not learning. “The growth mindset was intended to help close achievement gaps, not hide them,” she says. Harvard’s Marty West found strong reliability and positive correlations between indicators of academic performance and California’s CORE districts’ measures of socio-emotional skills, but while he supports further research and use of evidence, he also cautions that how these measures should work in school accountability systems is not yet known.

A Contentious Senate ESSA Hearing. Accountability timelines, defining “consistent underperformance,” and provisions related to state standards were some of the contested issues at the Senate HELP Committee hearing last Wednesday. Secretary John King, Jr.’s testimony provoked questions from Democratic and Republican Senators alike. Chairman Lamar Alexander urged waiting until school year 2018-2019 to identify schools in need of improvement. Secretary King doesn’t want to lessen the urgency needed to improve struggling schools, but said: “We are open to comments on the timeline and open to adjusting that timeline.” Senator Murray expressed concerns about the looseness of the phrase “consistently underperforming” regarding schools that must be identified for interventions under ESSA’s accountability provisions. Lastly, ED’s proposal to require states to provide evidence – not just an assurancethat the state has adopted challenging academic standards has rankled some members. “This work is going to require continued vigilance on the part not only of the federal government, but of states and districts, to make sure we don’t let states fall through the cracks,” Secretary King stated.

Engagement during ESSA planning and implementation is the name of the game. “This is a great opportunity for states to be unified under one agenda,” Secretary King said during his address to the Education Commission of the States’ National Forum. He then further clarified: “The civil rights organizations need to be at the table until the very end.” The 7,500 attendees at the NEA Conference also got the message of meaningful and effective stakeholder collaboration, including the requirement of states to engage parents in the creation of school report cards.

NPR’s Juan Williams writes that the end of the school year, for many, marks another year of lost opportunity. With ESSA leaving it up to the states to decide how to hold schools with a disproportionate number of failing students accountable, he calls for urgency: “For black and Hispanic students falling behind at an early age, their best hope is for every state, no matter its minority-student poverty rate, to take full responsibility for all students who aren’t making the grade—and get those students help now.”

In the States.

Alabama.  Conspiracy theories abound in the Yellowhammer State about nefarious plans to move education policy jurisdiction from the state’s elected board to the Department of Commerce. “The goal ultimately is to put both K-12 and post-secondary under the Department of Commerce, because they see education as workforce training,” said “an anonymous source with close ties to the education sector.” The flashpoint? Governor Bentley has appointed Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) as chair of Alabama’s Every Student Succeeds Act Implementation Committee. Collins was recently awarded the Business Council of Alabama’s Business Champion’s award and sponsored the House version of SB45, the Alabama School Choice and Student Opportunity Act. She’s also applied to be the next State Superintendent.

Arkansas. According to Arkansas Online, the Northwest Arkansas Education Service Cooperative – a state and federally funded regional entity that provides technical assistance to school districts – is leading efforts to educate teachers and school administrators on the “ ‘response to intervention model’ that begins with school staff accepting responsibility for ensuring every child learns.” “What you want is to guarantee that no matter what happens or who the teacher is, if a kid needs help, we can identify that and help immediately,” said Sara Reeves, an assistant principal at J.O. Kelly Middle School, who attended a workshop in June. Proponents cite legislative provisions in both ESSA and IDEA as providing a context and impetus for the “multi-tiered support systems” concept.

California. The Senate Education Committee approved Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s (D-San Diego) Assembly Bill 2548 over the California Teacher’s Association’s objections. The bill, which sets parameters for a new “accountability” system, had strong support from school reform and civil rights advocates and showed that federal pressure paid off. “Underlying the entire issue is whether schools, individual teachers – or anyone – will be accountable if the [achievement] gap persists.” However, bells of concern are still ringing in California, as the State Board of Education President Michael Kirst, a 76-year-old retired Stanford University professor who is leading the creation of the state’s new accountability system, said that “measuring performance is difficult on a statewide scale and that he would rather support local school districts in creating their own measures.”

Maryland/Virginia. More reasons why we need the type of statewide standardized testing required under ESSA. The Washington Post reports that many DC-area school districts are loosening their grading policies in a way that may inflate and distort students’ mastery of academic subjects. “Under a new policy in Virginia’s Fairfax County, one of the nation’s largest school systems, middle and high school students can earn no lower than a score of 50 if they make a ‘reasonable attempt’ to complete work.” Prince George’s County in Maryland will limit failing grades to a minimum 50 percent score if students show a “good-faith effort.” What kind of college and career ready is that?

Florida. How do you feel about testing, teacher evaluations, and how to improve schools? The Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) is reaching out to parents and community members to get feedback on these and other ESSA implementation issues. OCPS will forward responses to the Florida Department of Education and the USDOE. The deadline is July 22nd.

Georgia. Georgia’s General Assembly passed implementation legislation for Governor Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District (OSD) in 2015, and because it requires a constitutional amendment, Georgia voters will decide its fate during the general election of 2016. Dr. Allene Magill, executive director of the 91,000-member Professional Association of Georgia Educators, opposes OSD, arguing that “low test scores and ‘failing’ schools more clearly reflect the lack of resources in their communities and the poverty level of students and families than the effort of educators,” and that test data is unreliable. She warns the OSD Superintendent will have the authority to take over facilities and resources and “will have the ability to redirect those resources to for-profit corporations to operate the schools as charters without all of the overhead and capital costs that the local board must fund.”

Indiana. With teacher evaluation removed from federal law, states are on their own in determining how they will measure how teachers are performing. This report looks at the wide variety – 200 different models – used in Indiana in the past years. “Researchers found ‘an erratic profile’ of plans that varied based on what the researchers said makes for ‘high quality teacher evaluation.’”

Kentucky. Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt announced the 40-member steering committee that will create the state’s new accountability system. The committee will consider the input from the 11 town hall meetings held across the state earlier this year. Pruitt raised the question of the accountability timeline and other issues at the June 23 House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing.

Louisiana. State Superintendent of Schools John White will meet with Houma-Thibodaux-area parents, educators, and communities on August 1st, as part of his statewide tour. In June, White met with education leaders, civil rights advocates and business leaders.

Minnesota. Paula Cole, an immigrant, teacher, and school board member writes about the importance of engaging parents and communities in ESSA implementation. “If you are like me, you were unaware that the state education department held hearings on ESSA at its headquarters in Roseville this spring….This lack of authentic engagement is especially troubling at schools such as those I represent in Richfield — where five in 10 students speak a language other than English at home — and where I teach in Minneapolis — where nearly all my students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.”

Ohio. Based on lessons learned in part from school improvement efforts in Cincinnati, Daniel Duke, professor at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education and author of “The Children Left Behind: America’s Struggle to Improve Its Lowest-Performing Schools,” concludes: “The greatest challenge facing turnaround efforts in the future — with the most significant payoff — will be recruiting and retaining talented educators, especially minority educators, to work in the neediest schools. These talented teachers and administrators will achieve what we have yet been unable to.”

Tennessee 60+ committee members were named to draft Tennessee’s ESSA Plan. “Tennessee’s schools and students have made tremendous strides over the past few years to become the fastest improving state in the nation. We believe bringing a broad set of perspectives into that conversation — and ultimately keeping students at the center of every decision — will help us refine and capitalize on what is working,” Candice McQueen, State Superintendent of Education, said in a press release. The Tennessee Equity Coalition – a statewide coalition of more than 40 civil rights and education organizations – recently hosted Secretary of Education John King for an ESSA Roundtable.