This Week’s ESSA News: Finding Ways to Help Chronically Absent Students, Using Data to Better Support Law’s Goals, and Why Federal Efforts Are ‘Just Beginning’

This update on the Every Student Succeeds Act and the education plans now being refined by states 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.)

Alyson Klein reports in Education Week that, despite the approval of all state ESSA plans by the U.S. Department of Education, in some ways, “the federal government’s work on ESSA is just beginning.” While the law’s “hallmark may be state and local control,” the Education Department “still has the responsibility to oversee the more than $21 billion in federal funding pumped out to states and districts under ESSA.” This will more than likely take the form of monitoring — in which federal officials “take a deep look at state and local implementation of the law.”

The department also “has other oversight powers, including issuing guidance on the law’s implementation, writing reports on ESSA and deciding when and how states can revise their plans,” Klein notes. She also writes that even though the law puts a lot of limits on the federal department’s role, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and other federal education officials “have broad leeway to decide what those processes should look like.” Still, given the administration’s focus on local control, they may “try for a lighter touch” than in the past.

At the same time, “advocates for traditionally overlooked groups of students aren’t holding their breath for a robust monitoring process, in part because they think the department has already approved state plans that skirt” ESSA’s provisions. “They missed some really big things, and it wasn’t by accident,” said Phillip Lovell of the Alliance for Excellent Education. According to Lovell, who is “unhappy that the Education Department approved plans that allow states to give high ratings to schools where subgroups of students are struggling,” this happened “because of how they interpreted the law.”

See below for more ESSA news.

1 Interventions that work for the most chronically absent students

Education Dive’s Linda Jacobson reports on a new study released by University of Nebraska researchers, which finds that interventions “intended to improve attendance are more effective with students who miss the most school — at least 20% of the year — than they are with students who miss fewer days.” The study found that interventions like calling home, issuing counseling referrals, and making individualized plans helped reduce the number of both excused and unexcused absences for students most likely to miss school. Jacobson notes that states are now required to report chronic absenteeism as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act. And, with “many using a measure of chronic absenteeism as part of their accountability plans, it’s important for schools to know which strategies are most effective — and for which students.”

2 Legislators committed to data to support ESSA goals

With all ESSA plans now in place, policymakers used the 2018 legislative session to define the role of data in meeting their states’ education goals. The Data Quality Campaign’s latest report explores the commitments states have made regarding data use, including applying this information to answer complex questions on how different students are being served and what leaders can do to address their needs. The analysis also highlights key legislative trends that policymakers, advocates, and the public need to know about. Under ESSA, the authors note, “much of the responsibility around education measures, outcomes and priorities returned to state leaders.” They also note that policymakers “can go beyond compliance and ensure data is used to meet and exceed the education goals outlined in their states’ ESSA plans by using DQC’s Four Policy Priorities to Make Data Work for Students.”

3 How can ESSA bring schools and families together?

Education Week’s Francisco Vara-Orta writes that students do better when they have engaged parents (or other adults) to not only help with homework but also serve as their advocates with educators. But for parents with multiple jobs, whose English language skills are limited, or who have limited education themselves, it can be hard to serve these roles for their children. That’s why some “leading-edge districts” are working to change that through ESSA. The law “requires states and districts to develop plans to work with families and surrounding communities,” Vara-Orta writes, noting that this “requirement has spawned a multistate endeavor to create guidelines and exemplars for schools and districts to follow.” Philanthropies like the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation of New York “are championing the flow of more money into family-engagement initiatives, including research to identify what efforts are effective.”

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