This Week’s ESSA News: California and Florida Revise Plans (Finally), Experts Give Equity Advice, Colorado Looks Out for Foster Kids

Correction appended May 1

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.)

Tampa Bay Times reporter Jeffrey Solochek reports that the Florida Department of Education has submitted its revised ESSA plan, “months after the U.S. Education department said multiple revisions were needed.”

As we reported in our previous edition, California also recently submitted a revised ESSA plan to the Education Department. In Education Week, Alyson Klein explores both of these revised plans to see what exactly was changed by the states in hopes of winning federal approval.

Florida’s revised plan includes a new “federal index” that will “take English-language proficiency into account” and be used in combination with the state’s A–F grading system to “flag” struggling schools. The state will also “consider individual subgroup performance” in providing “targeted support” to such schools. The revised plan also defines the languages that are “present to a significant extent” under ESSA and seeks a waiver of some middle-school testing requirements in science and math.

In California, education officials submitted a revised ESSA plan that “meets the federal demand to flag schools in the bottom 5 percent of performers in the state,” a requirement that “doesn’t jibe well” with California’s current rating system, which uses a color-coded dashboard that “gauges schools on a number of factors, but doesn’t come up with an overall score.” In the end, California chose to identify schools whose indicators are all red (the lowest-performing tier), red in all but one category, all red and orange (the second-lowest), or those with five or more available measurements of which half are red.

See below for more ESSA news.

1 Choosing the right indicators and improving chronic absenteeism

The Brookings Institution hosted a discussion last week on the importance of ensuring that states have chosen strong enough indicators to measure student achievement in their ESSA plans. “Strong indicators help to highlight vulnerable students in the system,” Ajit Gopalakrishnan, from the Connecticut Department of Education, explained at the event. Much of the conversation centered on chronic absenteeism — an indicator many states have chosen to adopt. “Poorer students are notably likely to have higher rates of chronic absenteeism,” explained Jay Shambaugh from The Hamilton Project, which released a report on evidenced-based approaches to reducing absenteeism. “Better communications to parents and mentorship programs to connect teachers to families can help move the dial on chronic absenteeism,” Shambaugh said. The Hamilton Project found that the same schools often have chronic absenteeism problems year after year, and the policies at the school level matter a great deal, explained Shambaugh. Food for thought as states that chose chronic absenteeism as one of their indicators move forward with implementation of their ESSA plans.

And when it comes to fostering successful implementation of the indicators in each state, The Hunt Institute’s Dr. Javaid Siddiqi emphasized the importance of communication: “It will be critical for state leaders to get the messaging right around this new balance of academic measures and other indicators of school quality, including chronic absenteeism and college readiness … State policymakers need to be thinking about: What are we measuring? How do we convey those measures to parents?”

2 Finding strong evidence for school improvement strategies might not be so easy under ESSA

Education Week’s Alyson Klein also takes a look at how ESSA is supposed to be a game-changer in school improvement — giving states and districts the ability to create their own intervention mechanisms for low-performing schools if their claims can be backed up with solid data. However, this aspect of the law worries some education stakeholders because “there just aren’t enough strategies with a big research base behind them for schools to choose from.” Stakeholders are also concerned that district-level officials may be limited in their capacity or expertise in determining what kinds of interventions are truly effective. In the end, they think districts may just end up doing more of the same — with the same results.

3 Seizing ESSA’s equity moment

The Aspen Institute Education & Society Program, Chiefs for Change, EducationCounsel, and Education First have released a new resource called “Seizing the Moment: A District Guide to Advance Equity Through ESSA.” Instead of treating ESSA as “a separate initiative to implement,” the authors believe district leaders “can use the law to strengthen work they are already leading and to [break down silos] that have traditionally existed between federal programs and local initiatives.” The four groups have created a “suite of tools — including a series of infographics to help inform and guide local conversations” and have identified “eight equity priorities many leaders are already pursuing,” as well as “potential barriers to equity, key decision points, and opportunities to braid and blend federal funds to strengthen local equity priorities.”

4 Does Betsy DeVos have a double standard when it comes to local leaders?

Anne Hyslop examines the disconnect between U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s sharp criticism of state ESSA plans when speaking to the 2018 gathering of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and her other comments regarding local control. With a “cacophony of opinions on the topic, it’s easy to forget how we got here: with the elimination of regulations to implement the law over a year ago, and a rushed process to replace them with a new set of expectations for state plans.” On this point, Hyslop says, “DeVos is more culpable for the contents of state ESSA plans than she cares to admit.” Since the secretary was confirmed by Congress, she has repeatedly espoused local control, saying her focus would be on simple compliance. In this context, DeVos’s “tough love” at the 2018 CCSSO conference was an abrupt change that included “a laundry list of specific ways in which state plans fell short.”

5 Will Colorado be the first state to fulfill foster youth ride provision?

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Renick writes that the Colorado legislature is considering a $2.9 million bill “aimed at improving the educational success of students who are foster youths” by paying for them to be transported to their “school of origin.” If signed into law, Colorado will be the first state to officially implement a program that conforms to ESSA’s requirement that districts ensure that foster kids have a ride to school. A number of states are struggling to meet this requirement, which was supposed to be in place by December 2016. Improving Educational Stability for Foster Youth, (H.B. 18-1306) is a multifaceted bill that seeks to ensure Colorado is fully compliant with all of ESSA’s foster youth provisions.

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Correction: A requirement under the Every Student Succeeds Act that school districts provide foster children with rides to their “schools of origin” went into effect in December 2016. An earlier version of the story had the year incorrect. 

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