This Week in ESSA: Pennsylvania Looks to Cut Testing Time, Indiana Reformats A–F Grades & 3 More Approvals

This update on the Every Student Succeeds Act and the education plans now being refined by state legislatures is produced in partnership with ESSA Essentials, a new series from the Collaborative for Student Success. It’s an offshoot of their ESSA Advance newsletter, which you can sign up for here! (See our interactive 50-state ESSA map; explore our full archive of recent ESSA News Updates)

Three states — Nevada, New Jersey, and New Mexico — have joined Delaware as some of the first states to have their ESSA plans approved by Secretary Betsy DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education. But, according to Education Week’s Alyson Klein, these approvals didn’t come without changes to the state’s plans based on initial feedback from the department. Klein notes, “Nevada changed the way science tests figure into its accountability system. And the department asked New Jersey for more specifics on how it will identify and turn around low-performing schools. It also asked New Mexico for further detail on teacher quality.”

Lots more on federal feedback to states and new draft plans in the week’s top developments. Here are 9 updates to know about:

1. Michigan’s planned deemed “insufficient” for review

Recently, the Department of Education departed from its original process, opting instead to hold conference calls with states before publicly releasing feedback. However, unlike the other feedback we’ve seen, the department told Michigan there wasn’t even enough information in its plan — specifically around accountability — to review. (Our peer reviewers agreed! See more at CheckStatePlans.org)

Now it’s up to Michigan to make changes and submit. The state has 15 days, starting Aug. 2, to send an updated plan back to DeVos.


2. Illinois, North Dakota & Washington, D.C., get feedback, too
According to Education Week, the Department of Education told Washington, D.C., that it “cannot use tests like the SAT and ACT in its academic achievement indicators.” The feedback also asks D.C. to:
  • Clearly describe its measure for differentiating school performance;

  • Ensure that its “alternative” methodology for determining graduation rate decreases conforms to ESSA;

  • Adequately define “consistently underperforming” student subgroups; and

  • Provide more detail for its approach to “intervening in high schools where less than two-thirds of students graduate.”

Illinois has not “fully described how it will factor graduation rates into its accountability system,” and “is not following ESSA by having more-rigorous goals for graduation rates for cohorts of high school students that extend beyond a four-year window.” Ed Week details that DeVos wants more information on “how it will identify the extent to which low-income and minority students are taught by ineffective, out-of-field, and inexperienced teachers.”

The Department of Education also questioned:

  • The state’s methods for assessing academic achievement, school quality, and student success — which do not adhere to ESSA’s parameters;

  • Illinois’s “timeline for developing and implementing its measures of progress for students towards English-language proficiency,” which don’t match ESSA’s requirements;  

  • Whether Illinois’s plan to ascertain which student subgroups are struggling — or “schools needing ‘targeted’ support and intervention” — adequately addresses all required subgroups. 

North Dakota’s feedback included questions about how the state will define “consistently underperforming” as it identifies low-performing schools, and how it will consider the performance of all subgroups.

Like Michigan, all three states have 15 days to update their plans and resubmit to the Dept. of Education. 

3. Iowa constructing weighted formula for identifying lowest-performing schools 

The Iowa Department of Education is asking for public comment on its draft ESSA plan, which seeks to construct a “formula that identifies the lowest-performing schools for additional support,” in part by weighting academic achievement and growth metrics. Iowa education leaders are considering a post-secondary readiness measure as part of this weighted formula, which could include college entrance exam scores, such as from the ACT or SAT, or measuring how many students “take remediation courses once they reach college, or what a student’s grade point average is during their first year in college.”

While some in Iowa are reluctant to use a metric that seems to be beyond the score of a high school teacher’s ability to impact outcomes, others believe “adding a post-secondary measure would put more emphasis on schools to prepare students for additional training or education.” Overall, the proposed post-secondary metric would only account for 7.5 percent of the formula.

4. Pennsylvania wants to reduce time spent on testing

Pennsylvania’s draft plan would reduce standardized testing times while also setting a 2030 goal to increase proficiency rates. The plan also “calls for increasing the graduation rate every year and ultimately cutting in half the percentage of students, including subgroups of students, who fail to graduate by 2029–30.”

When it comes to English language skills, the plan seeks to demonstrate “annual progress toward proficiency within a timeframe that is based on their starting point of proficiency but not to exceed six years.” It also includes chronic absenteeism metrics to identify students, schools, and districts where proactive measures are needed, and replaces the state’s previous public accountability system with a “dashboard” model that displays school performance in multiple categories.

The department is looking for public comments, which it will accept until Aug. 29.

5. Texas’s plan aims to align state and federal policies

Texas’s draft plan works to align state and federal policies in accountability and school improvement. According to North Texas e-News, the plan maximizes district flexibility around providing services for students, strengthens support for disadvantaged students, and aligns long-term academic goals to ensure that 60 percent of students will be prepared to earn a certificate or degree by the year 2030.

The Texas Education Agency will accept public comment on the state’s draft ESSA plan through Aug. 29. 

6. Indiana reformats A–F grading system

The Indiana State Board of Education has agreed to reformat the state’s A–F grading system under ESSA. The proposed system makes changes to chronic absenteeism by considering “how many students attend for 96 percent of the school year and how many students improve attendance,” with a goal of having 80 percent achieve one of these criteria.

The plan also addresses students learning English by factoring in both overall proficiency and annual improvement, and addresses college and career readiness and data reporting.

7. Center for American Progress looks at indicators, school improvement plans 

A new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) examines the 17 state ESSA plans that have been submitted to the Department of Education. The report explores indicators states have chosen and how they’re being included in school classification systems. The authors encouraged states to “continue to improve their systems as new data become available, and states that have yet to submit their plans to the department can learn from the breadth and depth of new measures included in first-round plans.” 

8. Civil rights groups ask state education chiefs to serve interests of all students

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, along with more than 20 other civil rights organizations, sent letters to 34 state education chiefs asking them to ensure educational equity and move forward with an ESSA plan that serves the interests of all students. As Carolyn Phenicie reported, the letters state, “Parents and communities send children to school every day with the expectation that that school is doing its job and preparing their children for future success. They have the right to know that their state is committed to their children’s education and has a plan for what to do when a school is not educating well and needs help.”

The organizations outline elements that are critical to advancing educational equity and urge state chiefs to include these elements in their ESSA plans.


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