According to a recent report by Education Week, states have largely ignored a critical mandate of the Every Student Succeeds Act that calls for schools to measure the social and emotional competencies of their students.
“Not a single state’s plan to comply with the federal education law—and its broader vision for judging school performance—calls for inclusion of such measures in its school accountability system,” according to Education Week.
However, advocates for measuring social-emotional learning have said that the current tools need more refinement, before the U.S. Department of Education weighs in.
“Existing measures of social and emotional development, which largely rely on students’ responses to surveys about their own character traits, are not sophisticated and consistent enough to be used for such purposes, they have long argued,” the Education Week article said.
Even as school districts in Anchorage, Alaska; Austin, Texas; Chicago, Ill.; Nashville, Tenn.; Oakland, Calif.; and Sacramento, Calif., are actively engaged in incorporating social and emotional learning into their curriculums, civil rights leaders continue to encourage Black parents to get involved with the implementation of ESSA.
“We have noticed that, under the Trump administration, there has been a shift in priorities concerning the implementation of some practices of ESSA, since its inception in 2015,” said Elizabeth Olsson, a senior policy associate for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “However, state and district officials still have to comply with the law.”
Olsson continued: “The U.S. Department of Education needs to make sure that it continues to scrutinize state programs to ensure that states are recruiting effective educational strategies, reducing practices that push students of color out of school systems, and identifying support programs, including professional teacher development and funding for alternative classes, like restorative justice.”
Olsson said that restorative justice programs really help get to the root of student behavior.
Liz King, the senior policy analyst and director of Education Policy for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said that there are still a lot of open questions about how Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is going to implement ESSA.
Earlier this year, after a hearing with a House Appropriations subcommittee, DeVos was roundly criticized by the civil rights community, when she seemed to endorse a state’s right to discriminate against children.
During the hearing, when Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) asked DeVos, if her Education Department would require states, like Indiana, to end the practice of funding schools that openly discriminate against LGBTQ students and families, “DeVos didn’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” Slate.com reported. “She just smiled and stuck to the generations-old cover for violent oppression in America. ‘The states set up the rules,’ she said. ‘I believe states continue to have flexibility in putting together programs.’”
King called those comments “deeply concerning.”
King continued: “What we need to hear from the president and the secretary of education is a commitment to the law, the Constitution, and the rights of all children in the United States, focusing particularly on historically marginalized students.”
King said that the biggest difference between the way that ESSA was handled during President Obama’s administration versus the way the law is being handled now is the commitment to protect the civil rights, dignity, safety and respect for all children in this country. King added that children feel less safe and feel like their rights are being taken away, under the Trump Administration.
In a letter to Senator Patty Murray (D-Was.), DeVos claimed that the way that the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) handled “individual complaints as evidence of systematic institutional violations,” under the Obama Administration, “harmed students.” DeVos also promised to return OCR to a “neutral, impartial investigative agency.”
The Education Department has approved ESSA state plans from Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont.
As minorities continue to enroll in schools across the country at higher rates than their White peers, King said that parents and community members need to act now to make sure that the myriad needs of students of color are fully addressed in ESSA state plans, that includes access to advanced English and math courses and addressing the disparities that exist between how Black students are disciplined compared to White students.
“We have to address the issue of ESSA now, because decisions that are being made will have consequences for years to come,” King said. “One thing that is important to remember is that the implementation of ESSA does not happen in a vacuum.”
King continued: “ESSA is the opportunity for parents to work together with various coalitions, the press and grassroots organizations to shape the way the educational system will look for their children and for their futures in their own states.”
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have now submitted their plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act, and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her team are ready to examine the dozens of plans submitted by the second deadline last month.
Thirty-four states and Puerto Rico turned in their ESSA plans in September and October. (The official deadline for submitting plans was September 18, but hurricane-ravaged Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, and Texas got extensions). And all of those plans have now been deemed “complete” by the feds. That means the plans aren’t missing key details, at least according to the department’s initial review…
Originally Published, January 4, 2017
For the past five months, we have followed the development of Minnesota’s state accountability plan as mandated by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). While the US Department of Education (USDE) has defined what must be included in four of the plans’ required indicators, states have the freedom to choose which measures they will include in their fifth indicator, of school quality/student success (SQ/SS).
As we’ve previously written, because of the lack of available data, chronic absenteeism was identified by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) as the only SQ/SS measure that’s currently feasible for Minnesota. However, on November 29th, USDE extended ESSA implementation by one year, giving MDE’s Advisory Committee additional time to create a well-rounded SQ/SS indicator that would, ideally, include more than chronic absenteeism.
While most states have not released their ESSA draft plans, thirteen have—Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington. Arizona, Idaho, Montana, and North Carolina, however, do not define what possible SQ/SS measures their state will use.
All of the other states, except South Carolina, indicated that they intend to use chronic absenteeism as one of their SQ/SS measures; with Delaware, Maryland, Tennessee, and Washington using it only for elementary and middle schools.
Two SQ/SS measures were prominent throughout the state’s draft plans—Career and College Readiness and 9th Grade On-Track. Below are descriptions of the measures.
College and Career Readiness Measure
Seven states—Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington—have some form of a College and Career Readiness measure that calculates a school’s performance on or access to Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), SAT, ACT, Career and Technical Education (CTE), and Dual Enrollment.
South Carolina’s measure is more complex, with high schools earning points based on the percentage of students who meet the College Ready/Career Ready benchmark, which is comprised of several different metrics, such as earning a 3 or higher on an AP exam or meeting ACT benchmarks in mathematics (22) and English (18).
Similarly, Tennessee’s measure, Ready Graduate, is calculated by multiplying the graduation rate and the highest percentage of students who do one of the following:
Score a 21+ on the ACT OR
Complete 4 Early Postsecondary Opportunities (EPSOs) OR
Complete 2 EPSOs and earn an industry certification
Washington’s measure is more prescriptive. It only has a metric for dual credit participation, which is measured by the percent of students who participate in a dual credit educational program.
Delaware is the only state whose measure includes a metric for elementary and middle schools. Specifically, Delaware uses a “growth to proficiency” metric, which measures the percentage of students on track to be at grade level in a given content area within three years.
Minnesota initially considered including a College and Career Readiness measure, but due to insufficient and misaligned data systems, the Technical Committee decided at the October 25th meeting to delay its inclusion.
9th Grade On-Track Measure
Three states—Illinois, Oregon, and Washington—indicated in their draft plans that they intended to use 9th-grade on track as a measure, which is the percent of first-time 9th grade students in a high school who do not fail a course.
Other SQ/SS Measures
Illinois: Early childhood education, which would be measured by kindergarten transition, pre-literacy activities, and academic gains. Unfortunately, the draft plan did not flesh out what “kindergarten transition” would measure, but it did indicate that it might not be ready for the 2017-18 academic year.
Illinois’ plan indicated that they may also use a school climate survey. Currently, Illinois uses the 5Essentials survey, which was developed at the University of Chicago and measures a school’s effectiveness in the following five areas:
Louisiana: Their ESSA Framework included a comprehensive list of SQ/SS measures that were divided into four categories:
Mastery of Fundamental Skills
Serving Historically Disadvantaged Students
Fair and Equitable Access to Enriching Experiences
Celebrating and Strengthening the Teaching Profession
Louisiana’s entire list of SQ/SS measures can be found here.
South Carolina: An “Effective Learning Environment Student Survey”, which would be administered every January to students in grades 4-12 and would include 29 items that measure topics on equitable learning, high expectations, supportive learning, active learning, progress monitoring and feedback, digital learning, and well-managed learning.
We will continue to report on ESSA updates in Minnesota and the country. MDE’s next ESSA Accountability meeting is scheduled for Thursday, January 5th from 5:30-8:00 PM. For more information about MDE’s ESSA implementation plan, visit their website.
The grinding, two-year process of drafting accountability plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act has upended states’ K-12 political landscape and laid bare long-simmering factions among power brokers charged with putting the new federal education law into effect this school year.
The details tucked into dozens of plans being turned in to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos this week were hammered out by a hodgepodge of elected and appointed officials—from governors and legislators to state school board members and local superintendents—during sometimes sparsely attended meetings, caucuses, and task force sessions.
Further complicating matters, 12 governors, half the nation’s state superintendents, and half of legislatures’ education committee chairpersons are new to office since the passing of ESSA in December 2015, when significant policy leeway was handed back to the states from the federal government.
“The problem with devolution and decentralization is that, by definition, you’re going to get a lot of variation … in terms of effort, political will, and the effectiveness of those efforts,” said Patrick McGuinn, a political scientist at Drew University in New Jersey who has studied state and federal policy and followed the implementation of ESSA.
In many cases, politicians, lobbyists, and membership organizations used their political prowess, technical expertise, and longevity to successfully push their agendas in the crafting of 51 state-level ESSA accountability plans.
Hammering out plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act has been a source of tension for rival policymakers in many states.
Governors in Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, and Wisconsin rejected their states’ ESSA plans after the required 30-day review process. The plans can be submitted without governor approval—indeed, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos approved Louisiana’s plan—but such a thumbs-down indicates to the federal Education Department that there’s not political consensus over details.
State Boards of Education
In states such as Delaware, North Carolina, Washington, and West Virginia, legislatures attempted to strip the powers of their state boards of education over key education policy areas even as the states readied their approaches to ESSA implementation. In North Carolina, the state board sued the legislature over an education law passed during a special session that board members said violated the state’s constitution.
Lawmakers in states such as Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, and West Virginia passed bills that dictated components of states’ ESSA plans regarding school accountability and testing. That left local superintendents and state board members frustrated.
State superintendents in Alabama, Colorado, and New Mexico resigned in the middle of the ESSA-planning process after high-profile debates over key policies, leaving practitioners in the lurch and states in some instances making last-minute changes.
But the nature of state politics left out other groups, some of which will spend the coming months restructuring their spending and staffing priorities to more effectively lobby in the inevitable battles to come over the new law.
“The politics of federalism is going to dramatically change going forward,” said Sandra Vergari, a political scientist at the State University of New York at Albany who has studied federal education policy. Following all 50 states “is going to be a lot more work for us scholars, policy analyst, and advocates.”
Unlike prior federal versions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, ESSA required “meaningful stakeholder engagement” in crafting state plans—without defining who a stakeholder is or how much or what type of engagement needs to be conducted.
Many state superintendents said shortly after ESSA was passed that they had a natural incentive to put an end to years of polarizing debates over standards, accountability, and testing. But as the ESSA planning process unfolded, power grabs ensued in a number of states. Those traditionally in charge of education policy sparred with each other and with lawmakers eager to take on a share of the new responsibility.
In North Carolina, for example, the Republican-controlled legislature—just days before Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper took office this winter—decided during a special session that the state board should no longer oversee key accountability and school turnaround decisions, and that those decisions should be left up to the state’s recently appointed Republican state superintendent.
The board sued, and a judge decided last week to delay the law, which has held up the state’s ESSA planning process.
Delaware’s legislature stripped its state board of several powers, and a pending bill in Washington would scrap that state’s board of the ability to oversee portions of its accountability system.
And after years of infighting, Indiana’s legislature decided this year that the state’s elected superintendent should instead be appointed by the governor.
In other states, crucial policy decisions over testing, state goals, and how to define an ineffective teacher fanned flames between advocacy groups and politicians.
The governors in Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, and Wisconsin all refused to sign off on their states’ plans before sending them to Secretary DeVos. (A plan still can be turned in without the governor’s signature.)
And Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley asked DeVos to send the plan back (something his office is not allowed to do) after he took issue with portions that dealt with special education students. That state’s board-appointed superintendent involved more than 300 people in the development of the plan, a process the lieutenant governor said still left the state’s special education community without a voice.
“What we have in our system is all these interest groups across the political spectrum that have a lot of power and say,” said Calley, who has a child with special needs. “There’s no organized group with PACS and electoral power in our system that represents the parents.”
State superintendents, many with their own political agendas, were left walking a political tightrope in some states. Several didn’t survive.
In a political snub, Hawaii’s since-replaced state Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi wasn’t invited by Democratic Gov. David Ige to sit on the state’s ESSA task force.
New Mexico’s secretary of education, Hanna Skandera, resigned in June shortly after turning in her state’s controversial plan, which upset the state’s teaching force. And just last week, Alabama Superintendent Michael Sentance resigned after a bruising evaluation by the state’s district superintendents who took issue with his leadership style and the ESSA development process.
Advocates Weigh In
National, state, and local advocacy organizations all scrambled throughout ESSA planning to adjust to the fluid situation. A board meeting in California in July, for example, fielded dozens of comments protesting the state’s proposed accountability system.
In other states, advocates skipped state board meetings and went straight to their legislature.
Maryland’s Democratically-controlled legislature, pressured by the state’s teachers’ union, effectively wrote the state’s accountability system into a law called “Protect Our Schools Act.” The bill survived Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto and inflamed state board of education members who accused politicians of trapping students in failing schools.
Ohio’s teachers’ union and parent groups managed to convince the state’s superintendent in the spring to stall the turning in of that state’s plan after they convinced enough people that the plan would ramp up school testing.
And Kentucky’s legislature passed as part of its new ESSA-aligned accountability system a sweeping education bill that mostly scrapped a historic school governance model that had elevated parent voices in the form of school-based-decision-making councils.
The battle pitted Kentucky’s politically weak parent groups against the state’s well-financed superintendents’ association and teachers’ union. It flew in the face of a working relationship the three parties had forged over the years in fighting for more school funding from the legislature as the coal industry collapsed.
“We’ve been together for so long and through so much together,” said a disappointed Lynne Slone, the attorney for the Kentucky Association of School Councils.
In Florida, Rosa Castro-Feinberg, a civil rights activist for minority and English-language-learner students, said she will shift her efforts to the local level if the state’s ESSA plan passes federal muster. Castro-Feinberg launched a petition and letter-writing and media campaign to stop several waiver requests from being attached to that state’s plan, an effort that ultimately failed.
Others, however, see an opportunity for advocates and policymakers to forge ties across state lines in the wake of the sometimes-tense ESSA planning, especially on common issues such as the achievement gap, the effects poverty has on schools, and stagnant student performance.
“For some states that are diving into this more deeply, doing the soul-searching, you’re seeing a lot less partisanship,” said Michelle Exstrom, the Education Program Director for the National Conference of State Legislatures. “Education shouldn’t be a partisan issue. I think when you have a sense of urgency, you figure out that it’s in everyone’s best interest to improve outcomes, and leaders get motivated to go to the table to fix it.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her team have been approving state plans for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act at a fast and furious pace: They’ve announced approvals for 13 states and the District of Columbia over the past few weeks.
For those keeping score: Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, North Dakota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont have gotten the green light so far. Massachusetts is still waiting on its approval. Colorado got feedback from the Education Department, and then asked for more time to get its revised plan in.
The big ESSA onslaught is yet to come. Thirty-three states are scheduled to turn in their plans on Sept. 18, less than a week from now. (Hurricane-ravaged Texas gets extra time.)
So what did we learn from the first round of ESSA approvals? Here are some big takeaways.
1) The department’s feedback on plans may not be as influential as you’d expect.
The feds flagged certain issues with state plans. But by and large, states didn’t make big revisions in those areas—and got approved any way.
For instance, Connecticut and Vermont got their way on measuring student achievement. Both states will be able to use so-called “scale scores.” Those help capture student progress as opposed to straight up proficiency rates, which is what many people— including, at least initally, the department—said ESSA requires. Connecticut in particular did not stand down on this issue, telling the department that, “Webster’s dictionary defines proficiency not only as a state of being proficient, but also as an advancement in knowledge or skill.”
Tennessee will still get to use so-called “supersubgroups,” which combine different historically overlooked groups of students, such as minorities, English-language learners, and students in special education, for accountability purposes. That’s despite the fact that the department said this was a no-no in its initial feedback to the state.
In its revised plan, Tennessee promised to use both combined and broken-out subgroups in identifying schools for “targeted improvement” under the law. And the state provided some data to explain its reasoning behind having a combined black, Hispanic, and Native American subgroup. Tennesee argued that more schools would actually be identified as needing help using the supersubgroup approach than would be otherwise. That appeared to convince DeVos and her team, which gave Tennessee’s plan the thumbs-up in late August.
ESSA for the first time calls for states to factor into their accountability systems whether English-language learners are making progress in mastering the language. It’s supposed to be a separate component in the accountability system. But Connecticut incorporates English-language proficiency into the academic growth component of its plan. The department told the Nutmeg State to change that. Connecticut instead provided some more information to explain its thinking, and that seemed to work for the feds.
2) States worked the hardest to fix their plans in the areas where the department pushed the most.
3) Some state plans may not be as ambitious as some of ESSA’s architects hoped.
Arizona got approved to give much lower weight to the reading and math scores of students who have only been at a particular school for a short amount of time. Experts worry that it will diminish the importance of kids from transient populations—including poor and minority students.
North Dakota was told it needed to make sure that academic factors—things like test scores and graduation rates—carried “much greater weight” than other factors, such as student engagement and college-and-career readiness. So North Dakota upped the percentage from 48 percent for academic factors to 51 percent, according to an analysis by Chad Aldeman, a principal at Bellwether Education Partners, who reviewed select plans. That may not be what Congress had in mind when it used the words “much greater” weight, he said.
The department also asked North Dakota to be more specific about how it would decide which schools fall below the 67 percent graduation rate, triggering whole-school interventions. The state decided to go with schools where the six-year graduation rate falls below that threshold. That wouldn’t have flown under the Obama administration’s regulations for the law, which Congress nixed.
4) Some things in plans are still TBD, even though plans themselves are already approved.
Illinois is planning to use a mix of school quality indicators, including school climate and chronic abseneteeism. But the state is also hoping to add another unspecified measure aimed at elementary and middle schools, and a fine arts measure. The Land of Lincoln still has to figure out the details on those indicators.
And states haven’t yet had to provide lists of which schools will be flagged as needing extra help—or what kinds of strategies they’ll use to fix them. The lists of schools pinpointed for improvement won’t come out until after the 2017-18 school year.
“For the most part, [ESSA] hasn’t been a wild, crazy laboratory of reform, on how to identify and improve schools, that’s all sort of TBD,” Aldeman said.
It’s official! U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ team has offered feedback on all seventeen Every Student Succeeds Act plans that have been released so far. The last one on the list was Colorado, whose letter was posted publicly Monday.
If you’ve been reading other states’ ESSA feedback, the list of things that Colorado needs to address shouldn’t come as a shocker. The Centennial State must:
Rework its student achievement goals and academic achievement indicator so that they are based on straight up proficiency rates, not scale scores. Other states, including Massachusetts and Vermont have gotten similar feedback. There’s a great explanation of this overall issue from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute here…
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos Wednesday gave Nevada, New Jersey, and New Mexico the green light on their plans to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act. The three states join just one other, Delaware, whose plan was approved earlier this month.
All four states will begin implementing the law when the 2017-18 school year kicks off.
The states made some changes to win the department’s approval. For instance, Nevada changed the way science tests figure into its accountability system. And the department asked New Jersey for more specifics on how it will identify and turnaround low-performing schools. It also asked New Mexico for further detail on teacher quality…
Fifty Democrats in Congress have urged Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to nominate a “qualified individual” to run the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights, and are continuing to criticize her approach to issues ranging from sexual assault to transgender student rights protections.
In a letter Tuesday, the Democratic lawmakers specifically singled out Candice Jackson, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights, for displaying a “hostility towards the very mission and functions of the office she is charged to lead.” More broadly, the lawmakers criticized the department’s approach to investigations involving students of color, English-language learners, and LGBTQ students, among others.
DeVos’s approach to civil rights has become one of the most controversial parts of her work during her first six months on the job. The secretary has said that the education department’s office for civil rights under Obama was too aggressive and too eager to pursue broad cases against institutions, leaving individual students’ civil rights complaints to languish…
Remember the Every Student Succeeds Act’s brand new program aimed at helping states try out new forms of testing?
If not, you’re in good company. We hardly hear anything about ESSA’s “innovative assessment pilot” anymore, including from the U.S. Department of Education. That could change, however. The agency is considering next steps to open the pilot in the 2018-19 school year, a spokesman said.
When ESSA passed back in December 2015, the pilotâwhich would initially allow up to seven states to try out new forms of testing in a handful of districts for federal accountability purposesâwas one of the most eye-catching pieces of the new law. State officials crammed conference rooms and jumped on webinars to figure out how to apply. Two big states, New York and California, expressed at least some interest. And Colorado even passed a law requiring the state education agency to seek the flexibility…
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is the primary legislation related to federal K-12 education programs. ESSA replaces many provisions contained in the previous reauthorization—the No Child Left Behind Act—to give states more authority in the design of their school accountability systems and to encourage them to use measures beyond test scores to measure school performance. States, districts, and schools also have greater autonomy to design and implement school improvement strategies for struggling schools.
The law, however, continues to require states and districts to track and respond to low performance of schools and subgroups of students within schools. They must also be able to disaggregate the data they use to determine interventions by race and ethnicity, disability status, English language learners, and income. These critical protections ensure that all students—including the most disadvantaged—cannot be ignored.
Sixteen states and Washington, D.C., submitted their ESSA plans—which cover multiple provisions of the law—to the U.S. Department of Education for review during the first submission window. The Center for American Progress reviewed these submissions for their school classification systems and school improvement plans. The summary provides critical context and methodology. The 17 individual state fact sheets break down each state’s school classification system in addition to school improvement timeline, grant structure, types of schools identified, and key improvement strategies.