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The Every Student Succeeds Act: Civil Rights Groups Nudge Remaining States to Protect All Kids in ESSA Plans

Nearly two dozen civil rights organizations are publicly urging states to create plans for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act with an eye toward advancing educational equity and supporting all children, particularly those facing the greatest barriers.

“An ESSA plan that allows schools to shirk their responsibility to all children, especially groups of children who have been shortchanged for too long, fails to meet the intent of the law,” the groups, led by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, wrote to the state education chiefs in the 34 states that have not yet submitted their ESSA plans but must do so by Sept. 18. (See The 74’s interactive ESSA map, which offers state-by-state updates on ESSA progress — and direct links to your state’s ESSA plan.)

Specifically, the letters urge states to “demonstrate that schools will be held accountable for disaggregated student achievement.”

This can be done by making sure each racial group, as well as low-income students, English learners, and students with disabilities, are included separately in accountability systems. A state’s “n-size,” or the number of students in a particular group that trigger accountability measures, should be small, and school ratings should reflect the performance of all subgroups, rather than just an average of all students, wrote the groups, which included the ACLU, the Education Trust, and Democrats for Education Reform.

Many of the same groups that wrote the Aug. 1 letter raised similar concerns about the first round of state plans submitted in April. As we reported then, student advocates were sounding the alarm that ESSA plans would fail the underserved kids the law was built to protect.

The civil rights group also urged states to:

  • Include evidence of parent and community engagement in the plan’s development, and have an ongoing plan to continue to engage these groups.
     
  • Emphasize the four-year high school graduation rate in accountability systems.
     
  • Include a separate measure of English language proficiency for English learners.
     
  • Hold schools accountable if less than 95 percent of all students, or less than 95 percent of any subgroup, take tests.
     
  • Include effective strategies for supporting districts to improve.

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