ESSA Implementation Update: Chaos Theory


September 29, 2016

Arizona. The federal government has approved a plan that allows the Navajo Nation to design and run its own accountability system, akin to a state education agency, rather than have to comply with the different education policies set by the three states it spans (Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah). Navajo President Russell Begaye said, “the agreement will allow the Navajo Nation to set its own curricula, standards, and assessments,” which he said will be focused on the Navajo language and culture. “We have been wanting to do this for quite a number of years because we have the capacity to become a state-level education system.”

Arkansas. ArkansasOnline has published a nicely done deep-dive on how ESSA is impacting the identification of, and services provided to, homeless students. “Once a student is identified as homeless, school districts can use grant money and donations to help the student pay for school supplies, groceries, prescription medicines, clothes and transportation. During this 2016-17 school year, the state has distributed more than $600,000 of federal grant money to 17 school districts…. Under the new law, states also will be required to keep track of homeless students’ graduation rates — something Arkansas schools have not previously done.”

California. Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have placed greater emphasis on academics in school ratings than the plan developed by the State Board and simplified report cards so that they would be easier to understand by parents and policymakers. The color-coded report card that Brown, the State Board, and State Superintendent Tom Torlakson are pushing had been widely criticized for being difficult to decipher and lacking a single summative rating for schools. The bill Brown vetoed was aligned with state accountability requirements under ESSA; the State Board’s plan appears to not to be. Stay tuned.

Georgia. In a recent interview, State Superintendent Richard Woods said he wants to use new flexibility under ESSA to move away from college readiness for all students: “The model basically, even in Georgia, was that every child would go to a four-year university. But we know that is not reality in the world, so we’re looking at trying to optimize the opportunities for our children across the board. University is great, but some people may prefer the skills or technical school, the military, start their own business or even join their family’s business. So this is a great, great time for Georgia.”

Iowa. The Daily Nonpareil (Merriam-Webster – Nonpareil: someone or something that is better than any other
: a candy that is a small, flat, round piece of chocolate covered with tiny balls made of sugar) editorializes: “If Iowa does not get ESSA right, we’ll eventually find ourselves under the oversight of the feds again. Schools won’t be pushed to excel. And, ultimately, students – and their futures – will suffer…For our part, we would like to urge the department to dump the Iowa School Report Card’s bell-curve ranking of schools in favor of a standards-based system like many schools have shifted to using for their students.”

Louisiana. On Wednesday, State Superintendent John White released his plan for rating schools per changes to federal law under ESSA. What’s new? Twenty-five percent of a schools rating will be based on student academic progress. “Persistent problems such as high teacher turnover, suspensions, and access to arts classes” will be weighted 5% in each schools overall score. This isn’t the final word, however. According to The Advocate, “a second review [panel] named by Gov. John Bel Edwards is about to get underway and could result in conflicting recommendations” because it “includes officials of the Louisiana School Boards Association, Louisiana Association of Educators and Louisiana Association of Principals.”

Nevada. At a meeting on ESSA implementation, Pat Skorkowsky, superintendent of the Clark County School District, discussed the scrambling that’s going on to implement a new state law that shifts a great deal of budget and decision-making authority away from the district to individual schools. “Skorkowsky has acknowledged no other district has gone through such a transformation, leaving administrators with little guidance on the best way to whittle away at their own power or how to train principals in their new role as empowered campus leaders.”

New York. State officials have announced that they won’t apply for ESSA’s testing pilot program under which districts would develop new assessments to replace those now in use statewide. State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said: “I wish we could (apply), but I don’t have anybody that’s going to write a $5 million check…There’s no money with it. … We’re waiting to see if the federal government is going to put some money behind it. We would hope they would because we would like to do some of that work.”

Ohio. Ohio State Sen. Cecil Thomas is not a big fan of the state’s new report card system. On the one hand, he thinks it’s too much weighted on test scores. On the other, he thinks all the indicators that are included make interpretation difficult: “The components include achievement, progress, graduation rate, gap closing, K-3 literacy and preparation for success. In addition to that, schools are graded on sub-components such as indicators met, performance index score, overall value-added, gifted value-added, lowest 20 percent value-added, etc…It is clearly hard to get a grasp on these concepts in order to evaluate how the students are actually doing and how well the school is performing.”