This Week’s ESSA News: As the Education Department Approves 11 Education Plans, a Closer Look at Federal Feedback to States

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 recent ESSA updates from previous weeks right here.)

The U.S. Department of Education has now sent all states — with the exception of South Carolina — feedback on their ESSA accountability plans over recent weeks. Many states responded to this feedback and submitted updated plans to federal officials.

To date, 12 second-round states and Puerto Rico have gained approval of their plans. In addition to Minnesota and West Virginia, which got the green light last week, Secretary DeVos approved 11 plans on January 16, including Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, South Dakota, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Though the details of the revised and approved plans have not yet been posted, here’s an in-depth look at what the department’s initial feedback asked some of these states to change:

1. Arkansas

According to Arkansas Online, in December, the U.S. Department of Education asked Arkansas education officials to address several specific aspects of its ESSA plan, particularly regarding those “that deal with base-line achievement data and interim measures of student progress.”

  • Education Week provides more detail, noting that according to the federal agency, the state didn’t “have a separate indicator for English-language proficiency,” which is an ESSA “no-no.”
  • In addition, the Department said Arkansas had work to do on its plan’s academic achievement long-term goals.
  • State officials were also asked to explain how they will ensure that disadvantaged students have equitable access to qualified teachers.

Other issues of concern included how the state’s plan weights indicators, improving the skills of educators, and addressing the needs of migratory children. Click here to see the Department’s letter and its press release on the approval of Arkansas’s plan.

2. Pennsylvania

PennLive.com reports that, in December, state Education Secretary Pedro Rivera received a letter from the U.S. Department of Education citing “several areas” in the state’s ESSA plan where clarification or additional information was needed.

  • Education Week reports that the Education Department asked their Pennsylvania counterparts to “make changes to how and when the performance of English-language learners will be included in its system.”
  • They also said the state’s plan was unclear about whether academic factors are weighted strongly enough as compared to non-academic factors.
  • Pennsylvania officials were asked to explain how they would ensure that disadvantaged students have equitable access to qualified teachers.

The federal agency also said Pennsylvania needed to better explain the plan’s “method for identifying the bottom 5 percent of performers.” Click here to see the Department’s letter and its press release on the approval of Pennsylvania’s plan.

3. Wisconsin

At least “on paper,” Wisconsin presented “a tough political challenge for U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos,” because Republican Governor Scott Walker (a DeVos “ally”) refused to “sign off on the proposal, calling it bureaucratic and unlikely to improve student achievement,” reports Alyson Klein. At the same time, State Chief Tony Evers — the plan’s author — is in the running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, meaning he may be Walker’s opponent in the 2018 elections. Therefore, it’s important to the Department that it “doesn’t appear to have been any tougher on Wisconsin than other states.”

  • Federal officials said that Wisconsin “needs to better explain how it will use test scores to calculate the ‘academic achievement’ piece” of school ratings.
  • Additionally, the state needs to identify low-performing schools every three years under ESSA. As originally formulated, the plan set a six-year review schedule.
  • Wisconsin education officials also needed to explain how they would ensure that disadvantaged students have equitable access to qualified teachers.

Other issues of concern included long-term goals for English-language proficiency, graduation rate indicators, and supporting the needs of migratory children. Wisconsin’s plan was approved by the U.S. Department of Education on January 16. Click here to see the Department’s letter and its press release on Wisconsin’s plan approval.

Below, we take a detailed look at the federal feedback provided to all but one of the remaining second-round ESSA plan submission states: New Hampshire, California, Oklahoma, Texas, Indiana, Rhode Island, and Idaho.

4. New Hampshire

Education Week’s Alyson Klein reports that the U.S. Department of Education believes the Granite State’s ESSA accountability plan needs to be clarified, as well as provide more information on a number of issues, including:

  • Its method of calculating graduation rates “for the purposes of its long-term goals, and identifying schools in need of serious intervention,”
  • Its indicator weighting system “so that the feds can make sure that academics are given more consideration than other factors”; and
  • How it will ensure that disadvantaged students have equitable access to qualified teachers.

Other issues of concern include supporting the needs of migratory children and improving the skills of educators. Click here to see the Department’s letter.

5. California

According to the Los Angeles Times, in December, the U.S. Department of Education requested that California resubmit its ESSA plan, which state education officials said was light on details “because anything promised amounts to a contract with the Trump administration.”

  • The Education Department’s letter stated that California “has not sufficiently ‘provided long-term goals for all students’ and each group of students.”
  • The plan also lacked “goals for improving high school performance” and “leaves too much in the hands of districts when it comes to measuring certain aspects of progress.”
  • Federal officials also noted there are “holes in how the state would identify and help underperforming schools.”

More broadly, the Department found California hadn’t adequately described “how the plan would satisfy the law, which requires academic metrics to factor into school ratings more than other measures.” Click here to see the Department’s letter.

6. Oklahoma

The Oklahoman reports that the Education Department has requested “additional details and clarifications” before giving Oklahoma’s ESSA plan final approval. In total, the Department asked for clarification or more information on dozens of aspects of Oklahoma’s plan.

  • The Department wants to know how state education officials plan to “track student growth among various student subgroups.”
  • They also want to know “how struggling schools exit an improvement plan,” as well as the process by which English language proficiency will be calculated for individual schools.

A spokesperson for the state Department of Education said this feedback “is not unexpected,” because a number of the federal agency’s questions “stemmed from data that had not been available at the time of the plan’s submission deadline.” Click here to see the Department’s letter.

7. Texas

According to Texas Public Radio, the U.S. Department of Education asked the Texas Education Agency to make substantial changes to its ESSA plan, which must receive approval from the federal agency if the state wants to receive significant federal funding.

  • The Department questioned Texas’s method of measuring academic achievement, which “should be based on the number of students who show grade level proficiency on standardized tests, not the number of students the state considers to be ‘approaching grade level.’ ”
  • Additionally, federal officials said Texas’s plan includes too long a time period before the test scores of English language learners and refugees begin to “count.”
  • The Department also said the state must gauge academic success via math and reading scores alone; the state “wanted to include tests for science, social studies and writing” as well.

Earlier this month, the Texas Education Agency submitted its revised plan to the U.S. Department of Education. Click here to see the Department’s letter.

8. Indiana

Education Week says the federal response to Indiana’s ESSA plan called for more information and improvements in several areas, from the state’s proposed academic achievement indicator to the exit criteria for comprehensive support and improvement of schools.

  • Indiana’s plans to measure high school student growth “by looking at the change in the percentage of students passing the state’s exam for qualifying for graduation between grades 10 and 12” drew the ire of the federal agency, which is “skeptical that Indiana can use this exam as the annual state assessment required under ESSA.”
  • The state also wants to base its college- and career-readiness measurements on the total number of students graduating from high school, but the Department “says the state must use all students to judge performance on this indicator.”

Additionally, federal officials say the state’s plan for schools to exit “the pool of schools identified for comprehensive support and improvement” if they achieve a C grade two years in a row insufficiently demonstrates that such schools have “made continued progress to improve student academic achievement and school success.” Click here to see the Department’s letter.

9. Rhode Island

Education Week covered the response to Rhode Island’s ESSA plan, highlighting areas for improvement or clarification, such as the indicators for academic achievement, progress in achieving English language proficiency, and school quality and student success.

  • The Department says Rhode Island’s plan to use both the PSAT and SAT in its measuring of achievement “appears to run afoul” of ESSA.
  • Federal officials also say the state’s plan is unclear on “how it will calculate the indicator for English-language proficiency,” as well as how the indicator will impact school ratings.
  • Additionally, Rhode Island’s plan to identify low-performing schools “may lead to less than five percent of Title I, Part A schools identified for comprehensive support and improvement,” which would not live up to ESSA’s requirements.

The Education Department also wants more information on how Rhode Island will calculate teacher chronic absenteeism, which it intends to use as part of its School Quality or Student Success Indicator. Click here to see the Department’s letter.

10. Idaho

Idaho Ed News reports that the U.S. Department of Education has asked the state to revise its ESSA plan with additional information and clarification to ensure it meets “all statutory and regulatory requirements.”

  • Federal officials want more information on the state’s proposed student satisfaction surveys, because state officials “have yet to identify which survey” they will use.
  • The Department also wants more details on Idaho’s plan to provide K-8 schools with the “flexibility to pick whether to use proficiency or growth as a indicator,” because the description of how the state will measure growth is inconsistent.
  • The federal agency said the state plan’s n-size of 20 students for all students and 10 students for subgroups violates ESSA’s requirements.

However, the “feds did not flag Idaho for omitting a bottom-line, summative rating that some states included.” Click here to see the Department’s letter.

We’ll have more updates on ESSA feedback (including, we hope, feedback for South Carolina), submissions of revised plans, and approvals next week.

Want to stay up to date? Click here to sign up for the ESSA Advance newsletter to receive all the information in your inbox every Wednesday.

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