ESSA deadline looming, state struggle to complete plans

ESSA deadline looming, state struggle to complete plans

(District of Columbia) Even with the time extensions that the U.S. Department of Education has granted states to develop and submit plans detailing how each will abide by the Every Student Succeeds Act, there appears to be a lot of work to do.

A survey of ESSA state plans conducted over the past two weeks found just one state, Arizona, has formally submitted their plan.  Only 16 others have promulgated a draft plan for public review and among those, more than half have posted incomplete plans or just sections.

One of the major features of ESSA is that it returns to states the authority over how school performance will be evaluated and what should be done when they don’t measure up.

On this crucial question, nine states have at least outlined a direction and defined at least some indicators.

California, which has been engaged in this process for more than two years, would seem to be among the states on the forefront– and yet the state board of education is still grappling with such fundamental issues as how to measure the progress of students that are not likely to go on to college, and exactly how best to physically communicate the scores and indicators of student performance to parents.

After decades of complaints about the invasive role federal officials were playing in the management of schools, Congress crafted ESSA to give states far more flexibility and responsibility in the governance of public education.

That is not to say, however, that the federal law doesn’t include some requirements. In constructing new performance systems, ESSA mandates that states hold schools accountable for student progress in English language proficiency; high school graduation rates; academic achievement in reading and mathematics and academic progress on statewide tests.

Congress added one more indicator that states could define themselves intended to reflect school quality or student success. Although ESSA is silent on what elements need to be part of this fifth indicator, lawmakers included in the law suggestions of indicators that states might consider that go beyond test scores:

  • Student engagement
  • Educator engagement
  • Student access to and completion of advanced coursework
  • Postsecondary readiness
  • School climate and safety
  • Any other indicator the state chooses that meets the requirements (i.e., allowing for “meaningful differentiation in school performance [and] is valid, reliable, comparable, and statewide”)

As a result of this direction, nine states so far have included attendance as a proposed measurement of school success–California, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Washington.

While officials in North Dakota have not proposed including attendance as part of the accountability matrix itself, they want to use it as an indicator for defining when a student is ready or not ready to go into the work force.

Among the benchmarks that career ready students in North Dakota would need to meet are identifying a field of employment, participation in the work place, an industry credential and 90 percent attendance. The state also has a proposed definition of students who are ready for military service–the attendance mark here is 98 percent.

Some states, like Maryland, have proposed using attendance as a measure of student success in elementary and middle schools, but replacing it with a college-career readiness measure for high school–clearly a reflection of the importance of early learners to establish good attendance habits.

The draft Maryland plan also includes teacher attendance as a possible measure.

Other states, like North Carolina, have included chronic absenteeism on a list of possible indicators to go with student engagement, participation in co-curricular activities, physical activity, participation in the arts, suspension rates, teacher engagement, parent involvement, science test scores, college and career readiness, diploma endorsements and promotion from 8th to 9th grade.

Draft ESSA plans also illustrate some particular needs or challenges of specific states. Officials in Louisiana noted that they have the highest rate of adult obesity in the nation and the fourth-highest rate of childhood obesity–thus; nutrition and physical education have been made priorities.

In Illinois, where inner city crime has made national headlines, there is interest to tracking disciplinary data, such as suspensions and expulsions, as well as how many students are referred to law enforcement and use of aversive behavior interventions.

Currently, there are two deadlines for submission of the ESSA State Plans–one is quickly approaching, April 3; the other is Sept. 18.

Most states, it would appear, will have trouble making the Sept. 18 deadline.

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