ESSA Implementation Update: Raking Up ESSA Policy and Politics


October 3, 2016

Arizona. The state continues to solicit public comment on the draft plan it published in September (claiming to be the first state to do so) and says it will submit its final plan to the U.S. Department of Education in January 2017. Charles Tack, public information officer for the Arizona Department of Education, said: “You are going to see more funding being made available for gifted education, school safety and school health” and that “with the implementation of ESSA, schools would be able to select between tests and choose the administrators of their tests.” Looking at the actual draft plan, details on that last part are pretty sketchy. Stay tuned.

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

Colorado. An article in High Country News of Colorado discusses ESSA-funded education services to children of migrant families in the San Luis Valley, “one of the poorest regions in Colorado, whose robust agricultural industry makes it a popular destination for migrant workers. About 10,000 of the valley’s 40,000 residents are migrant seasonal laborers who work mostly in potato harvesting and on mushroom and lettuce farms… Every year, the San Luis Valley branch of Colorado’s program, which receives about $1 million per year, serves about 500 students, ages 3 to 22, in 23 regional school districts.”

Florida. Michael J. Petrilli and Brandon L. Wright of the Fordham Foundation urge the Sunshine State to give schools credit for students reaching the highest level of achievement on state assessments, to place more weight in school ratings on student progress than on student attainment of proficiency (which, the careful reader may notice, seems to conflict with the first recommendation), and to stop counting progress for students in the bottom quartile. A must-read, comprehensive look at potential accountability indicators under ESSA by Chad Aldeman of Bellwether looks much more favorably on including progress for students in the bottom quartile and has many other great insights.

Mississippi. Mississippi is taking a serious look at revamping its school funding formula at the same time it works to develop its ESSA plan. The state has hired New Jersey-based EdBuild, a non-profit with board members and staff formerly affiliated with StudentsFirst. Nancy Loome, executive director of an organization called The Parents’ Campaign, says she’s “done some looking into the firm the Legislature has hired for the revamp, and there are some red flags.” Let’s hope everyone in Mississippi who cares about funding public education adequately and equitably can work together on behalf of kids who are getting shortchanged on virtually every measure.

New Jersey. State legislators are questioning whether Governor Christie’s Administration should be writing the state’s ESSA plan. Sen. Patrick Diegnan Jr. (D-Middlesex) “suggested New Jersey seek an extension from the U.S. Department of Education that would allow the state to submit its new school accountability plan after the next governor takes office in 2018.” But wait. It gets better. NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer takes things a step further. He also thinks there could be changes under the next President. “There’s two elections that are going to change a lot of things here and, quite honestly, rushing to do this now is not necessarily the right thing to do.”

New Mexico. A group called “New Mexico First” is leading stakeholder outreach and providing background information to the public on where the state stands now with regard to assessments, accountability, student achievement, high school graduation, and other ESSA-related issues. Public meetings began October 12th and conclude November 15th. Their report is quite comprehensive, stating up front: “The state ranks near the bottom in the U.S. for student performance, scoring among the lowest in math and reading in the nation. However, parents, educators and policymakers have reason to be encouraged because New Mexico has made gains in student test scores and increased high school graduation rates since 2003.” Worth a read. More here.

Ohio. The state has completed a series of stakeholder meetings and will now incorporate the feedback they’ve gathered into the state’s ESSA plan. State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria said the state’s system “is in transition with lots of changes in what they expect of students and schools. There is so much great things happening around the state, and sometimes the report cards don’t show it very clearly. But as we get more accustom to the changes that have been put in to place, we’ll see it come out.”

Pennsylvania. Judging by this piece in the Morning Caller, nobody in the entire state of Pennsylvania likes standardized tests or assessment-driven accountability. “I think the era of standardized testing is over,” says Allentown School District’s interim Superintendent Gary R. Cooper. “Lawmakers [have] acknowledged that standardized testing is not a valid way to evaluate schools.” Actually, standardized tests are valid (and reliable), by definition. We support ESSA provisions that allow multiple measures of school quality, but throwing out standardized testing (as the Morning Caller did) ignores a wide body of research that shows accountability, while not the be-all and end-all of school improvement, has helped boost student success. See our infographic briefs on the subject here.

Tennessee. Grace Tatter of Chalkbeat Tennessee posits that while things look calm on the surface, big changes could be coming to Tennessee under the state’s ESSA plan, particularly when it comes to student testing: “One possibility is letting some districts pilot a new kind of test, called a ‘competency-based assessment,’ where students can show what they know throughout the year in a way that might not even look like a traditional test — for instance, a classroom presentation.” A search of the post for terms like “reliable,” “valid,” “comparable,” and “objective” came up empty. A report on what the state has learned so far from stakeholder outreach and public comment is available here.

Texas. Sandy Kress has a spot-on op-ed in the Star-Telegram, where he invokes Lewis Carroll as a key to explaining Texas education policy. “What difference does it make that the current tests are better aligned to state standards? To begin, it makes state accountability fair and appropriate. Can you see the state trying to hold districts and schools accountable when they’re all using different measures?… [T]he one area the state has always taken an interest in, and the area in which federal law insists it continue to, is to measure and implement consequences, on a statewide basis, for how well students are learning to state standards.”