How Are States Handling Testing Opt-Outs Under ESSA?  – Politics K-12 – Education Week

How Are States Handling Testing Opt-Outs Under ESSA? – Politics K-12 – Education Week

Education Week logoThe question: This one comes from a school-based leader who preferred to remain anonymous. This leader wants to know “What are the federal guidelines for ‘testing transparency?’ Schools are mandated to get 95 percent participation, but how is that possible is we tell parents of their opt out rights?”

The answer: ESSA is actually really confusing when it comes to test participation. The law says that states and schools must test all of their students, just like under No Child Left Behind, the law ESSA replaced. Under NCLB, though, schools that didn’t meet the 95 percent participation requirement—both for the student population as a whole and subgroups of students, such as English-language learners—were considered automatic failures.

Now, under ESSA, states must figure low testing participation into school ratings, but just how to do that is totally up to them. And states can continue to have laws affirming parents’ right to opt their students out of tests (as Oregon does). ESSA also requires states to mark non-test-takers as not proficient.

State plans—44 of which have been approved by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her team—are all over the map when it comes to dealing with this requirement…

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Districts Are Supposed to Use Evidence to Improve Schools Under ESSA. Will They?

Districts Are Supposed to Use Evidence to Improve Schools Under ESSA. Will They?

Education Week logoThe Every Student Succeeds Act is supposed to bring about a big change in school improvement. The law says states and districts can use any kind of interventions they want in low-performing schools, as long as they have evidence to back them up.

But the provision has some experts worried. They’re concerned that there just aren’t enough strategies with a big research base behind them for schools to choose from. These experts also worried that district officials may not have the capacity or expertise to figure out which interventions will actually work.

Districts, they’ve said, may end up doing the same things they have before, and may end up getting the same results.

“My guess is, you’ll see a lot of people doing the things they were already doing,” said Terra Wallin, who worked as a career staffer at the federal Education Department on school turnaround issues and is now a consultant with Education First, a policy organization that is working with states on ESSA implementation. “You’ll see a lot of providers approaching schools or districts to say, ‘Look, we meet the evidence standard,'” Wallin said…

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

Students, Educators and Parents March on Washington to Demand Action on Gun Violence

Students, Educators and Parents March on Washington to Demand Action on Gun Violence

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in the March For Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington, D.C. Organized by the survivors of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, it was a rally by students for students, but they were joined by thousands of educators who amplified their message — #neveragain. Hundreds of sister marches were held across the country and around the world.

Connecticut Educators March for Students

Busloads of educators came from all over the country to support the Florida students and students all over the country who demand to be heard. Taking part  was a group of educators from Connecticut, where the shooting that killed 26 elementary school children and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton is still raw.

“We have to do something with our gun laws, and we have to be vigilant. Talking and talking about it doesn’t change anything and we need to act. Our kids don’t feel safe,” said Mia Dimbo, a middle school math teacher from Bridgeport as she prepared to march to the site of the rally in Washington. “We need support for mental health. We don’t have enough resources for psychologists and counselors, and there’s so much trauma our kids are dealing with. They should not be afraid when coming to school. Today I march for our kids and our teachers…”

Read the full article here.

Nationwide Student Walkouts Planned To Protest Gun Violence

Nationwide Student Walkouts Planned To Protest Gun Violence

Defender Network Logo

From Maine to Hawaii, thousands of students planned to stage walkouts Wednesday to protest gun violence, one month after the deadly shooting inside a high school in Parkland, Florida.

Organizers say nearly 3,000 walkouts are set in the biggest demonstration yet of the student activism that has emerged following the massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Students from the elementary to college level are taking up the call in a variety of ways. Some planned roadside rallies to honor shooting victims and protest violence. Others were to hold demonstrations in school gyms or on football fields. In Massachusetts and Ohio, students said they’ll head to the statehouse to lobby for new gun regulations.

The coordinated walkout was organized by Empower, the youth wing of the Women’s March, which brought thousands to Washington, D.C., last year. The group urged students to leave class at 10 a.m. local time for 17 minutes — one minute for each victim in the Florida shooting.

Although the group wanted students to shape protests on their own, it also offered them a list of demands for lawmakers, including a ban on assault weapons and mandatory background checks for all gun sales.

“Our elected officials must do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to this violence,” the group said on its website.

It’s one of several protests planned for coming weeks. The March for Our Lives rally for school safety is expected to draw hundreds of thousands to the nation’s capital on March 24, its organizers said. And another round of school walkouts is planned for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado.

After the walkout Wednesday, some students in Massachusetts say they plan to rally outside the Springfield headquarters of the gun maker Smith & Wesson. Students and religious leaders are expected to speak at the rally and call on the gun maker to help curb gun violence.

At Case Elementary School in Akron, Ohio, a group of fifth-graders have organized a walkout with the help of teachers after seeing parallels in a video they watched about youth marches for civil rights in 1963. Case instructors said 150 or more students will line a sidewalk along a nearby road, carrying posters with the names of Parkland victims.

The walkouts have drawn support from companies including media conglomerate Viacom, which said it will pause programming on MTV, BET and all its other networks for 17 minutes during the walkouts, and students will temporarily take over MTV’s social media accounts.

The planned protests have drawn mixed reactions from school administrators. While some applaud students for taking a stand, others threatened discipline. Districts in Sayreville, New Jersey, and Maryland’s Harford County drew criticism this week when they said students could face punishment for leaving class.

In suburban Atlanta, one of Georgia’s largest school systems announced that students who participate might face unspecified consequences.

But some vowed to walk out anyway.

“Change never happens without backlash,” said Kara Litwin, a senior at Pope High School in the Cobb County School District.

The possibility of being suspended “is overwhelming, and I understand that it’s scary for a lot of students,” said Lian Kleinman, a junior at Pope High.

“For me personally this is something I believe in, this is something I will go to the ends of the Earth for,” Kleinman said.

Other schools sought a middle ground, offering “teach-ins” or group discussions on gun violence. Some worked with students to arrange protests in safe locations on campus. Officials at Boston Public Schools said they arranged a day of observance Wednesday with a variety of activities “to provide healthy and safe opportunities for students to express their views, feelings and concerns.” Students who don’t want to participate could bring a note from a parent to opt out.

Meanwhile, free speech advocates geared up for a battle. The American Civil Liberties Union issued advice for students who walk out, saying schools can’t legally punish them more harshly because of the political nature of their message. In Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Texas, some lawyers said they will provide free legal help to students who are punished.

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Why Public School Teachers, Administrators Cheat

Why Public School Teachers, Administrators Cheat

Public schools in the nation’s capital recently reported that the graduation rate for 2017 was the highest in the school system’s history.

According to school officials, about 73 percent of Washington public schools’ students graduated on time, another record high for a school system that had struggled years ago to graduate even half of its students.  The graduation rate marked a four-point rise from the previous year and a 20-point gain from 2011, when just over half of D.C. Public School students graduated within four years.

In response, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser proudly described the school system as the “fastest improving urban school district in the country.

“These graduation rates are a reminder that when we have high expectations for our young people and we back up those expectations with robust programs and resources, our students can and will achieve at high levels,” Bowser said in a statement.

But it was all false.  A report by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education shows more than one of every three diplomas awarded to students were not earned. The report found that 937 out of 2,758 graduates of D.C. public schools did not meet the minimum attendance requirements needed for graduation. Teachers even admit to falsely marking students present.

Washington is the latest of a series of public school systems found guilty of widespread cheating.  Similar cheating was found in public schools in Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago, Memphis, Los Angeles, Columbus, Ohio, and Atlanta.

The perpetrators in these scandals weren’t the students but the administrators and teachers.  Both have admitted to falsifying records on standardized tests, graduation requirements and student grades.

In response, some teachers have been fired and stripped of their licenses to teach again.  In other places like Atlanta, teachers and administrators have gone to jail. In Washington, D.C., Antwan Wilson, District of Columbia schools chancellor, resigned Feb. 20 after it was revealed he used his position to get his daughter into a preferred school.

The real culprit in these cheating scandals, according to education experts and teachers, is the increased — and some say unfair — pressure on education officials from the government to meet a certain level of student performance.  If they don’t meet the mandated standards, school systems could lose funding, and with less money to pay for staff and supplies some people could lose their jobs.

President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015 and former President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top created an “accountability system,” education experts said, linking student performance to Title I funding, which are federal grants given to schools with a high percentage of low-income students.

No Child Left Behind was the first law requiring federally-mandated tests to measure student performance.  Prior to the law, states and cities used achievement tests to measure what students were learning to decide how effective their instruction was and what changes they might make.

Harvard professor Dan Koretz, author of the book The Teaching Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better, said cheating by teachers — in many cases sanctioned or encouraged by administrators — is fueled by the misuse of standardized tests to measure school performance which has pressured teachers to raise scores beyond what is reasonable.

“Some cheat and, ironically, all of these shortcuts undermine the usefulness of tests for their intended purpose—monitoring what kids know,” Koretz said.

Koretz and other education experts believe standardized tests can be a useful measure of students’ knowledge, when used correctly.

survey by the Washington Teacher’s Union and EmpowerED echoes Koretz’s assertion that teachers feel pressure to cheat. The survey found that almost 60 percent of teachers said that they’ve felt pressure or coercion from superiors to pass undeserving students.

“There has been strenuous pressure to hit specific targets regardless of student performance or attendance,” an anonymous D.C. public school teacher said on the survey.

Another teacher said, “Administrators, parents, and teachers just want good grades so the school system and the student look accomplished on paper.”

A study conducted by the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization, showed that over 45 percent of Black students nationwide attend these low-income or high poverty public schools. Meanwhile, only 8 percent of White students attend these same schools.

Education expert Morgan Polikoff, a professor of education at the University of Southern California, said the result is that cheating is found primarily among majority-Black schools, which lack the educational tools and support they need in order to adequately serve their students.

“There are teachers who’ve felt pressure because they don’t feel that they have the capacity or support to achieve expectations through realistic measures,” Polikoff said.

Koretz said the cheating underscores the fallacy of rewarding and punishing schools based on standardized tests.

The answer “is to reduce the pressure to meet arbitrary targets,” he said. “Another is to routinely monitor how schools are reaching their targets. Yet another is to broaden the focus of accountability in schools to create a more reasonable mix of incentives.”

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Inside the ESSA Plans: What Are States Doing About Goals and Timelines?

Inside the ESSA Plans: What Are States Doing About Goals and Timelines?

By Stephen Sawchuk, Alyson Klein, and Andrew UjifusaEducation Week logo

EDUCATION WEEK — This week, Education Week is bringing its trademark analysis to the remaining state plans for fulfilling requirements of the Every Student Succeeds law. On Monday, we had a look at the states’ proposed “school quality” indicators, €”the required but nonacademic portion of each state’s plan to judge schools. Today, we’re going to take a look at states’ goals for raising student achievement and their timelines for doing so in the plans awaiting federal approval.

One thing we’ll keep stressing again and again this week: how far federal policy has moved since the days of the No Child Left Behind Act (ESSA’s predecessor). Read on.

So, what kinds of goals are states setting?

Some states chose fixed goals that aim for all students, and all subgroups of vulnerable students, such as those qualifying for subsidized school lunches or English-language learners, to reach the same target (such as 80 percent proficiency). What’s nice about this kind of goal is that it sets the same endpoint, making it easier to see over time how achievement gaps are expected to close. States in this category include: Arkansas, Hawaii, Kansas, Mississippi, (grades 3-8 only), Ohio, Minnesota, New York, Rhode island, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

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

Source: Education Week Politics K-12

OHIO: Simpson presents Youth Gap Analysis Study to Cincinnati Board of Education

OHIO: Simpson presents Youth Gap Analysis Study to Cincinnati Board of Education

Council Member Yvette Simpson last week presented the groundbreaking Youth Commission of Cincinnati youth study titled “It’s Time to Wake the Village” to the Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education.

The YCC Youth Study, also known as the Youth Gap Analysis Study, is a three-year study commissioned by Simpson and YCC to provide a complete report on the state of Cincinnati youth. Community Builders Institute at Xavier University conducted the study focusing on six areas: crime, education, health, poverty and homelessness, workforce development, and developmental opportunities.

A staunch advocate for Cincinnati youth, Simpson has been sharing the report with various organizations since its completion earlier this year, many of which have used the information to create or fine tune activities and programs for city youth. Now, she has decided to take the youth study to the people. She is encouraging the Cincinnati Board of Education to embrace the report and see how it can be incorporated into their curriculum and programming. She has also begun presenting the report directly to nine community leaders whose neighborhoods that are featured in the study.

Cincinnati has over 65,000 youth living in its city, and 50 percent live in nine neighborhoods: Avondale, East Price Hill, West Price Hill, Mt. Airy, Winton Hills, College Hill, Hyde Park, Mt. Washington, and Westwood.

By listening to young people the report discovered youths from all socioeconomic backgrounds believe they will be successful. The report also revealed families and schools are the first support network for young people; that youth experience and worry about violence; that they want to get out and see the world; and they do not feel connected to their neighborhoods.

For copies of the Youth Gap Analysis Study: It’s Time to Wake the Village, visit Simpson’s Council webpage at, click on Youth Commission of Cincinnati, and then click on Youth Study, and download the report

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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What Other States Can Learn from Ohio’s Education Plan

What Other States Can Learn from Ohio’s Education Plan

By Dr. Elizabeth Primas (Program Manager, NNPA/ESSA Public Awareness Campaign)

While education officials in Ohio have identified six components for rating schools on their school report cards, they are giving more attention to making sure students don’t fall behind to begin with. Over the last four years, education leaders in Ohio have tripled their investments in the “K-3 Literacy component” and its corresponding preschool program. Ohio has also increased access to high-quality education programs for children living in poverty and low-income families. This investment is aligned with the state’s birth to third grade support system that is designed to ensure that students enter school with the skills necessary to be successful and reach third grade with skills needed to read proficiently.

In December 2011, Ohio began using Early Learning and Development Standards that address five essential domains of school readiness for children from birth to five years-old. Those same standards will continue with the state’s ESSA plan. The five domains include: social and emotional development; physical well-being and motor development; approaches toward learning; language and literacy development; and cognition and general knowledge. These standards have been expanded to provide a continuum of learning for children from birth to five years of age; that implies that there are different expectations for children depending on their age and development. Once parents and caregivers understand that children develop on a continuum, or with skills built upon what was previously learned, educators and parents can begin to work in tandem with each other; ensuring that children are learning and developing appropriately.

Ohio’s Early Learning and Development Standards provide parents with information and expectations for each of the five domains; allowing them to get a jumpstart in preparing their child for school readiness. Standards are organized by topic and age: Infants (birth to around 8 months); young toddlers (6 months to around 18 months); and older toddlers (16 months to around 36 months). The guides are organized to allow parents to easily identify where their children should be, developmentally. For instance, the Social and Emotional Development Domain chart for awareness and expression of emotion, states that infants should express sadness, fear or distress by crying, kicking legs and stiffening the body; by pre-K, children should be able to recognize and identify their own emotions, as well as the emotions of others.

In 2003, Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, two researchers at the University of Kansas, published a report titled, “The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3.” They found that exposure to a rich vocabulary in a child’s early years is critical and the disparities in that exposure result in an achievement gap. It is important for parents to speak to their children, all of the time, using “standard” English. Parents can introduce their children to new words by explaining things in the child’s environment. Reviewing the names of items in the grocery store, the names of animals they see in the neighborhood, and the style and color of their clothes are simple ways to make a big impact. If we are to close the achievement gap, we must start before the child arrives at the schoolhouse doors. From birth, parents should sing songs and repeat nursery rhymes. Reading rhyming books and alphabet stories promote language acquisition and literacy. Parents are a child’s first teachers. It is up to us to give our children the exposure necessary to close the achievement gap.

To find out more about ESSA and its opportunities in literacy visit

Dr. Elizabeth Primas is an educator, who spent more than 40 years working towards improving education for children of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds. Dr. Primas is the program manager for the NNPA’s Every Student Succeeds Act Public Awareness Campaign. Follow Dr. Primas on Twitter @ElizabethPrima3.

Dr. Elizabeth Primas talks about the Every Student Succeeds Act, the “30 Million Word Gap,” and Ohio’s ESSA state plan.

Will ESSA Reduce States’ Accountability in Special Education? – Education Week

Will ESSA Reduce States’ Accountability in Special Education? – Education Week

Law gives flexibility on subgroup reports

October 24, 2017

As unpopular as No Child Left Behind was by the time it was ushered off the stage in 2015, advocates for students with disabilities could always point to one aspect of the law that they liked: by requiring that test scores of different student groups be reported separately, the law exposed the low academic performance of students in special education and required schools to do something about it.

The replacement for NCLB, the Every Student Succeeds Act, still requires that the academic performance of students with disabilities be reported, along with other student subgroups.

But the law trades federal mandates for state flexibility on what should happen to a school whose students with disabilities are consistently lagging their peers.

States and some lawmakers have cheered the end of what they call federal overreach. But some advocates worry that the accountability goals states have set for themselves won’t move the needle for a group of students who have long struggled with low achievement. At worst, they worry, states can create rules that allow the performance of students with disabilities to again be obscured by the relatively higher test scores of the general student population.

Lower Goals

“A lot of the really crucial decisionmaking got left to the states,” said Ricki Sabia, the senior policy advisor at the National Down Syndrome Congress. “Our concern was with how they would use this discretion.”

Sabia and Candace Cortiella, the founder of the Advocacy Institute, examined drafts of the accountability roadmaps developed by 37 states. All of the states have submitted ESSA plans to the U.S. Department of Education for evaluation; the department has given its stamp of approval to 14 states and the District of Columbia.

A reading of the draft plans illustrates some of Sabia’s and Cortiella’s concerns. In New Mexico’s accountability blueprint, for example, it set a goal for itself to increase the high school graduation rate of students with disabilities to 79 percent in 2022, up from 62 percent in 2016.

At the same time, however, the plan sets a goal to have 50 percent of students with disabilities scoring proficient on the state’sEnglish/language arts and math assessments by 2022. That’s an ambitious goal—less than 7 percent of New Mexican special education students meet that bar now.

But “it is difficult to understand how [students with disabilities] can be expected to graduate at a rate of 79 percent in 4 years while just 50 percent are expected to be proficient in reading and math,” Sabia and Cortiella wrote in a letter intended to support local advocates.

Plan Omissions

Another concern is that the goals for students with disabilities are too low. New York, for example, is aiming for 63 percent of its students with disabilities to graduate with a standard diploma by 2022, up from 55 percent in 2016. New York notes that its end goal for all students, including students with disabilities, is a 95 percent graduation rate. But it also proposes resetting its goals each year.

Educators didn’t like the 100-percent proficiency goal that was embedded in the old law, Sabia said. “But how do you say that some students aren’t going to be proficient? How do you say it’s OK if 5 percent or 10 percent aren’t? That’s what some of these new plans do.”

The education nonprofit Achieve, in its analysis of state plans, found that 26 states and the District of Columbia set the same long-term graduation goal for all subgroups. Twenty-four states set different end point goals for students with disabilities and other subgroups.

Others have pointed not to what’s in the state plans, but what they believe has been left out. Laura Kaloi is a government relations policy consultant with the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, a group that represents children in special education and their families. COPAA was looking for states to offer specific plans about how to prevent bullying and harassment, discipline that removes children from the classroom, and “aversive behavioral interventions that compromise student health and safety.”

In an examination of the state plans that were submitted this spring, she said, those topics were not addressed.

“We know many, many school districts need work in this area,” Kaloi said.

The plans are light on some details because states were not required by the law to provide them. In March, the Senate overturned some accountability guidelines that were passed during the Obama administration, saying they were too prescriptive and not keeping in the spirit of the law and its focus on state-based accountability. For example, the law requires states to identify a minimum number of students in a particular subgroup that a school would have to enroll in order for that group to be counted in school accountability, known as the N-size. Under the ESSA accountability rules that the Senate threw out, states could select any N-size but had to offer a justification if they chose a number over 30. The Education Department does not require states to provide a justification for its N-size selection.

Some states, such as Ohio, have chosen to provide such justification, however, suggesting that in some cases states are committing to a more rigorous standard.

Ohio is moving from an N-size of 30 down to 15 by the 2019-2020 school year, which means that more schools will potentially be subject to accountability measures. After the change, 86 percent of the state’s schools will have to report on the progress of the special education subgroup, compared to 58 percent that are required to do so now.

Melissa Turner, the senior manager for state policy for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, said her organization is also examining the state plans, with an eye to strong accountability for student subgroups, clearly defined policies that explain how states will help struggling groups of students, and greater use of accommodations and the appropriate use of “alternate assessments.”

ESSA places a 1 percent cap on the percentage of all students who can take alternate assessments. That equates to about 10 percent of students with disabilities. Such alternate assessments are intended for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. Some groups, such as NCLD, have been concerned that schools have steered students to the alternate assessments in the past, instead of providing the teaching and support that would allow students to take the same tests as their peers in general education.

Positive Implications

Turner mentioned some plans that stand out as potentially positive for students with disabilities. Iowa, for example, has organized its ESSA accountability blueprint around “multitiered systems of support,” which are intended to provide research-backed instruction for all students in academics and in social-emotional development.

Turner also singled out New Hampshire for its plans for personalized learning. “That’s something that we applaud. We think that’s a strong opportunity for states to meet the needs of all kids,” she said.

The organization is concerned, as other groups are, about different goals for different student subgroups. If the overall graduation rate goal is 95 percent, it should be the same for students with disabilities, she said.

“We’re really hoping to see that gap narrow in the long-term goals,” she said.