Top ESSA Advice from Top Wonks
August 4, 2017

Following the early submission deadline when 17 states proposed their Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans, a number of national policy and advocacy organizations have weighed in with feedback on the plans’ strengths and weaknesses. Here is a round-up of the most pressing advice offered this summer by PIE Network partners.

Collaborative for Student Success

The Collaborative for Student Success, in partnership with Bellwether Education Partners, facilitated a rigorous peer review process, tapping 30 education policy experts for their views on the state ESSA plans submitted for the first deadline (you can find a list of Network members that participated in the peer review here). Adam Ezring, director of policy at the Collaborative for Student Success, emphasizes, “Advocates have an important opportunity to make themselves heard as states lay out their vision for improving education.”

Ezring cited lack of clarity in school improvement plans as one of the biggest weaknesses across most states. Most states have yet to articulate how schools will be identified for improvement, what specific actions those schools will be expected to take, and how those improvement measures will be funded.

“Not one state in our review received the top score for its plan to ensure all students and populations are well tended to.”

“States have a duty to present fully developed plans for addressing the needs of low-income students and students of color, and in-state voices must help ensure that we are setting those students up for success,” Ezring says.

In contrast, the report notes many states, including Tennessee, are exploring innovative college and career-ready indicators and maintaining a strong focus on academics.

Foundation for Excellence in Education

The Foundation for Excellence in Education’s recent review of plans recognized Louisiana and Washington, D.C. for basing 90 percent of a school’s rating on student outcomes. They also laud the 14 of 17 early submission states that are proposing summative school ratings.

Claire Voorhees, director for K-12 Reform, Foundation for Excellence in Education, notes,

“ExcelinEd’s review focused on the nuts and bolts of the first 17 ESSA plans.  And, we found that, in general, the good outweighed the bad.”

“14 of 17 states plan to use summative ratings aimed at giving parents powerful information about the overall performance of their child’s school.”

However, ExcelinEd is concerned about an overemphasis on normative growth. “Policymakers in your state may be reacting against the singular focus under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) on whether or not kids met the proficiency bar. That’s understandable. But we should caution our policymakers against an overreaction in the other direction. Getting all students to proficient must remain our goal if we are committed to helping every child graduate ready for college or a career. Therefore, our accountability systems should include criterion-based growth measures that incentivize schools to move every child toward proficient and advanced achievement.”

Thomas B. Fordham Institute

Some experts, however, promote normative-based growth measures as a way to avoid labeling all low-income schools as low-performing. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute evaluated submitted state plans according to three lenses: clear labeling, focus on all students (not just low performers), and fairness to low-income schools. Ultimately, they gave top marks to ArizonaColorado, and Illinois.

“In Fordham’s view, there are three—relatively easy!—changes states should make to improve upon NCLB-era accountability systems: design clear and intuitive labels of school performance, like A-F or 0-5 Stars; encourage schools to focus on all kids, not just those “on the bubble” of proficiency; and emphasize growth measures to better discern which high-poverty schools are doing right by their students,” Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, explains.

Fordham supports normative-based measures over criterion-based, which they argue provide a clearer differentiation between low-income schools that generally perform more poorly on proficiency measures than their high-income counterparts. As Petrilli urges, “Think about your state’s highest-performing charter school in a low-income area…if that school can’t earn an A rating in your system, then there is something wrong with your system.”

National Council on Teacher Quality

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) focused on educator equity in their recent analysis of state plans, highlighting strengths and opportunities to ensure that low-income students and students of color are not disproportionately taught by ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers.

“At its core, this federal requirement is about ensuring that students are not systemically disadvantaged,” Elizabeth Ross, managing director of state policy at NCTQ, says.

“It’s critically important that states address it with strong definitions, thorough data calculations, ambitious timelines and targets, and promising strategies.”

NCTQ recognized both Washington, D.C. and Colorado for their definition of an inexperienced teacher and praised New Mexico and Louisiana for their definition of an ineffective teacher.

However, they also noted that every state has opportunities for improvement. As Ross explains, “Many states would benefit from establishing specific timelines and interim targets for eliminating any existing educator equity gaps, and from implementing strategies designed to utilize their district plan review and approval process to ensure that districts with longstanding equity issues are using state and federal education funds strategically to address any existing educator equity gaps.”

As the majority of states continue working to finalize their draft ESSA plans, these national reviews draw attention to practices worth emulating and missed opportunities that can be identified now before submitting. Advocates in many states across the Network are working to shine a spotlight on both areas. Read more about recent work happening at the state-level here.

Interested in connecting with the Collaborative, ExcelinEd, Fordham, or NCTQ for more information? Reach out.

Laura Mann

Laura is PIE Network's Senior Director, Communications, Standards, and Accountability

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