ESSA Implementation Update: Civil Rights and Education Reform Groups Push for Strong Accountability on NPRM


August 1, 2016

By Marianne Lombardo

clinton kaine

This is the 12th 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.


ERN joined 31 groups today in responding to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on testing and accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Link to the letter is hereThe groups continue to stand firm to ensure that ESSA holds states and districts accountable for increasing student achievement, particularly for marginalized communities. As the comments state, “For too long, students of color, low-income students, English learners, students with disabilities and other historically marginalized students have been denied the equal educational opportunity that is their right and our collective responsibility. The measure of this regulation, as with any other action taken to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, must be whether or not it advances the interest of these American students.”


Tim Kaine and Hillary Clinton agree on education reform says NPR. Clinton helped write No Child Left Behind and then grew concerned about an overreliance on student testing, on which she believes ESSA strikes a “better balance.” In 2006, then-Governor Kaine said NCLB was “wreaking havoc on local school districts.” Kaine helped write key provisions to prevent sexual assault and strengthen career technical education in the new ESSA bill. He was one of 43 Democrats who voted for the Murphy-Booker accountability amendment despite strong opposition from the NEA.


Guidance on homeless students. The USDOE released guidance on how to serve the nation’s 1.3 million homeless children and youth. Under ESSA, Title I funds may be used for services to homeless children that are not ordinarily funded by Title I, such as transportation to a homeless student’s school of origin. ESSA also requires that data on academic achievement and graduation rates be disaggregated for homeless students and for children and youth in foster care.


A more nuanced measure of school quality. Ed Week takes a look at how several states (California, Connecticut and South Carolina) are approaching new school quality indicators. Choosing measures that are meaningful, valid, reliable, comparable across districts, and able to be disaggregated across student demographics is proving to be a challenge.




Alabama. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Implementation Committee is hosting eight community engagement sessions throughout the state to discuss the state’s ESSA plan. “The state plan is the central road map for our education system,” Governor Bentley said. “We must make sure that we are getting it right the first time, that development of the plan is thorough and accurate and involves the opinions of educational leaders and stakeholders across the state.” For a comprehensive listing of stakeholder activity in all 50 states, see this Google doc from the National Down Syndrome Congress.


Arizona. Dysart Unified School District Superintendent Gail Pletnick testified in July before the U.S. Senate HELP Committee in opposition to the proposed ESSA requirement that accountability systems produce a single summative score for rating schools. “We have the ability to utilize current research, technology and, hopefully, now the flexibility of ESSA to build much stronger accountability and reporting systems with meaningful multiple indicators,” Pletnick said. But wait. Just a few paragraphs later, Pletnick argued against requiring such multiple indicator reporting systems: “Data collection and reporting is important to ensure transparency and accountability. However, there is such a thing as being data rich and information poor. We need to move away from burdensome reporting, and towards meaningful collection and reporting of information that is important to the stakeholders.” ESSA is pretty clear on what has to be reported by states and districts. It would have been instructive if Pletnick had cited data reporting requirements that she thinks are unimportant. No such list, however, was forthcoming.


California. “Baffling” is how the LA Times editorial staff describes the California State Department of Education’s proposed school quality dashboard. Just one of nine indicators has anything to do with how students perform on standardized tests. They write, “We’ve got this much: Green is good. Red is bad. Yellow is somewhere in between. Just like traffic lights. It’s hard to ascertain what the rest mean, but there’s a separate chart showing all the colors that is supposed to give you an idea of what they stand for. But it doesn’t, reallyIf you’re a parent trying to figure out whether one school in your district is better than another, well, there’s no clear way to do it. If you’re a voter who wants to determine how much the local schools have improved over time, good luck.”


Colorado. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. The names of the 17-member ESSA Committee have been released, and they are bipartisan and diverse. Included are Jim Earley (as the parent representative) and Ross Izard of the Independence Institute. (The two, for those who don’t know, sparred in last fall’s tumultuous Jefferson County school board recall election). DFER Colorado is pleased with appointees from the Governor’s Office, Colorado Succeeds, Stand for Children and the Colorado League of Charter Schools: “They’re good partners and will champion a productive state plan that holds the line on how we can’t address what we don’t measure,” says Jen Walmer, Colorado State Director.


Florida. Don’t let the sunshine in? Of 500 Orange County residents responding to an online survey, 73% want students to be able to take a national high school level test like the SAT or the ACT instead of the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA). ESSA specifically allows states to approve this type of substitution of nationally recognized tests for state exams in math and reading in high school. One has to wonder whether an online survey of this type can accurately reflect the views of the community as a whole, but the findings are certainly worth a read.


Georgia. State Superintendent Richard Woods has set up seven committees to gather feedback on ESSA implementation and help write the state plan. Chairs of each committee are mostly culled from the Georgia Department of Education and committee members are mostly teachers or administrators from local education agencies. That’s fine as far as it goes. But it’s not quite the diverse group of ESSA stakeholders envisioned in the statute.


Hawaii. Listen here for a discussion of how Hawaii education stakeholders are getting to work on ESSA implementation. Participants discuss how ESSA would align with the state’s existing STRIVE High system, and how it might change as leaders think through what they’d like to see in Hawaii’s classrooms and schools. “It’s a matter of trust over time and the process of engagement is critical.”


Kansas. To decrease testing time, state officials reduced the total required material to be assessed by 60 percent. Students across Kansas will likely spend half as much time taking state assessments next school year (making the maximum amount of time students spend testing go from fourteen to six hours). Confusingly, they say this is possible because of ESSA, yet NCLB never dictated what states had to include on their state assessments.


Kentucky. Kentucky’s Accountability Steering Committee is working through how to implement ESSA within the new Kentucky accountability system. “When you try to deal with federal regulations, and state regulations, and things get tripped up, and things don’t always turn out the way that you intend them to be, and you learn from those things and that’s what I think we’re trying to do,” Stephanie Winkler of the Kentucky Education Association said. “We’re at a place now where we can try to get the assessments right.”


Massachusetts. Several organizations, including MASSCreative, the Boston Student Advisory Council, Mass Insight Education, Teach Plus and Stand for Children, presented ideas they hope the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will incorporate into the state’s new school accountability system at a stakeholder forum in Boston last week.  Their input included: incorporating arts education, rewarding schools that lower suspension rates and embrace alternative student discipline, and – this is intriguing – enabling interventions and flexibilities in underperforming schools before they fail. If they go this route, Massachusetts would be leading the way by bringing a greater array of improvement options and resources to a larger number of schools, and thus, helping more students.  (See Mass Insight Education’s proposal here and our look at Massachusetts’ successful school improvement efforts here).


Minnesota. Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius spoke to a packed room and two overflow rooms on what ESSA means in Minnesota. “I think we have two purposes here, as a community and as a state,” she said. “One is to define for our state: What’s a high quality education that every single child ought to have an opportunity to get? And then the second is: What are our federal requirements around an accountability plan so that we can intervene with the 5 percent of schools that we feel need the biggest amount of support?”


Nebraska.  LB 930, which passed during the last legislative session, requires the Department of Education to administer a standard college admission test. Many seem to support using the ACT, as it not only cuts down on the number of tests students take, but students are more invested in the outcomes.


New York. The 7,000 member School Administrators Association of New York State (SAANYS) sent a scathing letter ripping proposed NPRM regulations and Race to the Top (not mentioning the $700 million the state received that enabled them to create the widely respected, free online curriculum and instructional resource Engage NY). Their ESSA issues: the requirement that school accountability determinations be done before the start of the next school year, high school graduation rate calculations, summative ratings, consequences for low participation, and also “supplement not supplant.” SAANYS claims that schools are unfairly “downgraded” because high performing students are those opting out. This doesn’t jive with this article that shows lower performing students were more likely to opt out, and this one that showed school proficiency rates improved where students opted out.


Also in New York, Senator Joe Griffo (R-Rome) sent a letter opposing “punishing” schools for opt-outs. He’s got company from the other side of the aisle: “For the federal government to try and override the decisions by parents to opt their children out of flawed tests that were really developed as a scheme to punish and discourage talented teachers, is likely unconstitutional,” said Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa.


North Dakota. “Why do the rural schools and small schools get punished for something they have nothing to do with?” asked Rep. Mike Nathe (R-Bismarck), arguing that rural schools could get hit hard by the federal requirement for test participation, because it doesn’t take many students opting-out to get below the 95 percent threshold. “Is there a recourse for these schools, that go to the feds and say, “Hey, here’s the situation. We had nothing to do with it. It’s a movement.”


Pennsylvania. “Accountability had been missing for too long in public education before No Child Left Behind called for tangible measures of student success,” Brenda Becker, former superintendent of Hempfield School District told LNP in 2009. But, that essential fact gets quickly lost in a pretty anti-accountability LNP editorial. The board writes “parents began opting their kids out of the testing not because their ‘special snowflakes’ didn’t want to take tests” but because results aren’t processed quickly enough to help teachers identify gaps and as a measure of teaching and school performance. They also say “standardized testing has proved to be unfair” and “the only people who seemed to profit from it were the executives of testing companies.”


Rhode Island. Rhode Island Committee of Practitioners began meeting last week. Ana Riley, superintendent for Portsmouth Public Schools, was encouraged: “When you have parent groups and school groups and community groups sometimes we speak different languages…but what was exciting yesterday — the thing that stood out to me was we were able to get beyond that. It was really a great, collaborative conversation.” Felicity Crawford, chair of special education and associate professor at Wheelock College, not so much: “As long as attention remains on testable accountability in K-12 schools rather than on poverty, inequality and early education, ‘every student succeeds,’ like ‘no child left behind,’ will continue to be an unfulfilled promise.” Also, the State Department of Education decided to eliminate the English section of the PARCC assessment for 10th graders because students are already required to take the PSAT and SAT.


South Carolina. State Superintendent Molly Spearman told teachers at a professional development conference that there’s a goal of success for all students, yet “it is easy to say, but when we know the different backgrounds our children have, that is really impossible.” She told educators she’s encouraging parents, churches and other community groups to help students succeed because “we cannot do it ourselves.”


Tennessee. “What are our values beyond test data?” Tennessee Assistant Commissioner Nakia Towns asked the Commissioner’s 21-member task force. Is it discipline? Chronic absenteeism? Socio-emotional learning? Early post-secondary options? Access to highly effective teachers? The pros and cons of each were hashed out as they work to make recommendations to the state’s new accountability plan.