Every Student Succeeds Act: Six Questions to Ask About State Plans

Break out the balloons and the bubbly drinks, it’s April 3! That’s right, it’s the first official deadline for states to turn in their plans for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act to either the U.S. Department of Education or to their governors for review. (States that go that second route officially get to turn in their plans, to the department on May 3.)

Late last year, 17 states and the District of Columbia said they were shooting to turn in their plans on April 3, although a couple, including Ohio, have decided to sit tight and keep working. There is a second deadline, on Sept. 18.

The plans will now be read by different teams of peer reviewers at the department. Political appointees, including U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, are forbidden from monkeying with that process. But the secretary gets to give the plans the final thumbs or down. More on how all that will work here

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States Ignore Social Competency for Students in ESSA Plans

States Ignore Social Competency for Students in ESSA Plans

By Lauren Poteat, NNPA/ESSA Contributor

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.

Education Week reported that, “DeVos rescinded the Obama administration’s transgender guidance to schools designed to give students more protection.”

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.”

Betsy DeVos: All ESSA Plans Are In, Complete, and Ready for Review

Betsy DeVos: All ESSA Plans Are In, Complete, and Ready for Review

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…

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Engineer Turned Teacher Helps Students Build Apps for Special Needs Counterparts

Engineer Turned Teacher Helps Students Build Apps for Special Needs Counterparts

Nick Gattuso is a computer science teacher at Point Pleasant Borough High School in New Jersey, where his students have developed a suite of learning applications to assist students with disabilities, as well as an emergency-response app for school officials. Last year, his students’ work was honored by the state school boards association.

“This November will be my 15th year at the high school. Prior to coming [here], I worked for 20 years for Bell Labs. It was the pre-eminent research institution of its time…I was scheduled to be in the Pentagon, in its computer center, on 9-11. The reason I wasn’t there was because it was back-to-school night for my daughter, who was in elementary school. After that…I wanted to give back. I was too old to be a cop or a fireman, so I decided to give back by becoming a teacher.

“I took an early retirement package from Bell, and was literally put into a teaching job with no experience. I have a master’s degree in software engineering, and also a bachelor’s degree in English and poetry. I took an almost $100,000 pay cut—no lie.

“When I was at Bell, we had done this work for a guy who was paralyzed in one arm. It was a voice-activation program that helped him do his work. Years later, I was talking to my son Nicholas, explaining this story and how this program had helped this guy, and we had the idea of building real software, something that means something to people. I went down the hall to the teachers in the special-needs programs, and they were like, ‘We’ve been waiting for you!’

Nick Gattuso

“PALS stands for Panther Assisted Learning Software. In our case, my students have a set of customers downstairs, in special needs, and those customers are dependent on us to create programs that are actually meaningful, that help their lives. One of the applications we built teaches them how to go grocery shopping—with a shopping-cart simulator that has them rolling around a 3D store, picking up the bread. Another one helps them count money.

“When this thing started taking off, I went down to my administration and said, ‘We have Programming 1, and we then we have AP Computer Science, but there’s really no place for kids to go after that. So we created Advanced Software Engineering Topics. All we do is project-based, like it would be in college, or in the workplace. There are deadlines, but there are no tests.

“The question is: Did you solve the problem? Did you build something that will enrich the lives of the children downstairs? Did you make their lives better?

Some of my kids are working now for Google, for Apple, for Yelp. They make oodles of money, but they always know that the genesis of their work was building stuff for special needs kids, for doing good for somebody else.”

ESSA: Four Takeaways on the First State Plans to Win Approval

ESSA: Four Takeaways on the First State Plans to Win Approval

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.

And Michigan is the biggest cliffhanger. The department originally told the state its plan had huge holes and might not be ready for review. Michigan submitted a revised plan, but it’s unclear if it will meet the feds’ standards.

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.

Louisiana, Delaware, and other states changed the way science factored into their accountability systems, at the behest of the feds. That was an issue the department clearly thought was important—it got flagged in numerous plans. (More on how you can use science in your ESSA plan and how you can’t in this story.)

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.

Want more on ESSA? We have an explainer on the law and takeaways from state plans here.

Trump Education Dept. Responds to Colorado’s ESSA Plan

Trump Education Dept. Responds to Colorado’s ESSA Plan

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…

Read the full article here. May require an Education Week subscription.

ESSA’s New High School Testing Flexibility: What’s the Catch?

ESSA’s New High School Testing Flexibility: What’s the Catch?

When the Every Student Succeeds Act passed, one of the things that educators were most excited about was the chance to cut down on the number of tests kids have to take, Specifically, the law allows some districts to offer a nationally recognized college-entrance exam instead of the state test for accountability.

But that flexibility could be more complicated than it appears on paper.

Here’s a case in point: Oklahoma, which hasn’t finalized its ESSA application yet, has already gotten pushback from the feds for the way that it had planned to implement the locally selected high school test option in a draft ESSA plan posted on the state department’s website. In that plan, Oklahoma sought to offer its districts a choice of two nationally recognized tests, the ACT or the SAT. Importantly, the state’s draft plan didn’t endorse one test over the other—both were considered equally okay…

Read the full article here. May require an Education Week subscription.


Betsy DeVos Approves ESSA Plans for Nevada, New Jersey, and New Mexico

Betsy DeVos Approves ESSA Plans for Nevada, New Jersey, and New Mexico

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…

Read the full article here. May require an Education Week subscription.


Democrats Blast Betsy DeVos for Her Department’s ‘Hostility’ to Civil Rights

Democrats Blast Betsy DeVos for Her Department’s ‘Hostility’ to Civil Rights

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…

Read the full article here. May require an Education Week subscription.


School Accountability in First-Round ESSA State Plans

School Accountability in First-Round ESSA State Plans

By Samantha Batel and Laura Jimenez

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.

Laura Jimenez is the director of standards and accountability at the Center for American Progress. Samantha Batel is a policy analyst with the K-12 Education team at the Center.