Federal Flash: Are States Shirking ESSA Responsibilities?

Are states shirking their responsibilities around two of the Every Student Succeeds Act’s (ESSA) most important provisions for historically underserved groups of students? A new analysis says yes. Federal Flash delves into the findings, plus a Senate education committee hearing on ESSA implementation and the latest on the bill funding the U.S. Department of Education. 

A new Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) analysis finds that many states are not fully implementing the letter–or the spirit–of the Every Student Succeeds Act or ESSA. All4Ed released the analysis ahead of a Senate education committee hearing on ESSA implementation, which we’ll cover later in this post.

All4Ed previously created “ESSA Equity Dashboards” for most state ESSA plans. These dashboards assess states on fourteen equity-focused policies in the law. In terms of actual outcomes for kids, however, not all of our indicators are created equal. That’s why our new analysis summarizes the two most important equity policies from the dashboards: (1) inclusion of subgroups in school ratings and (2) definitions of “consistently underperforming” subgroup used to identify schools for targeted support.

Unfortunately, the results are mixed, with many states at risk of masking the performance of historically underserved students.  In other words, a school could receive an A rating, but have a graduation rate for African American or Latino students of only 60 percent – which is hardly an A. And in many states, low-performing students may not receive the assistance they need to excel because their schools are not identified for support.

Specifically:

12 states are red because they don’t include subgroups of students in all school ratings. Another 23 states get a yellow because they don’t include all of ESSA’s subgroups in ratings or are at risk of obscuring subgroup performance on school report cards. Just 17 states get a green rating for including all ESSA subgroups in all school ratings.

On the second indicator, 16 states are red because they are at risk for under-identifying schools for targeted support. 30 states earn a yellow because students will likely need to fail across multiple indicators before the school is identified for support. In other words, it won’t be enough for a subgroup to simply be below grade level in reading. Students would need to struggle in reading, math, and other areas before being identified.  Only 6 states get a green for using a definition of consistently underperforming where subgroups receive support if students are struggling on a few key measures – like achievement and/or growth.

Read the full chart and analysis.

These two issues – school ratings and school identification – were major concerns raised by senate democrats in this week’s committee hearing.

But ESSA accountability wasn’t the only issue raised. Democratic senators called on Secretary Betsy DeVos to use her authority to prevent states from using federal funds for guns. Republican chairman Lamar Alexander, while he dislikes the idea of arming teachers, said states have the flexibility to use funds under Title IV of ESSA as they see fit.

Finally, the fiscal year 2019 funding bill for the U.S. Department of Education and several other agencies passed both chambers of Congress this week and President Trump has said he will sign it.

This is the first time since 1996 that the bill funding for the Department of Education has been signed into law before the start of the new fiscal year. This is notable because it allows states, districts, and schools to know what funding they will have for certain education programs prior to the beginning of the fiscal year.

This blog post represents a slightly edited transcript of the September 28 episode of Federal Flash, the Alliance for Excellent Education’s five-minute (or less!) video series on important developments in education policy in Washington, DC. The video version is embedded below. For an alert when the next episode of Federal Flash is available, email at alliance@all4ed.org.

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