This Week’s ESSA News: Louisiana Gets 1st Federal OK for Innovative Assessments Pilot, Professional Development Comes Up Short, and More

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.)

Louisiana has become the first state to win approval from the U.S. Department of Education to participate in ESSA’s Innovative Assessment pilot, which “allows up to seven states to try out new kinds of tests in a handful of districts before taking them statewide,” according to Alyson Klein at Education Week.

While New Hampshire, she writes, “got the ball rolling for this back in 2015” under the No Child Left Behind Act — receiving approval to “try out performance-based exams in a handful of districts” — Louisiana “is seeking to combine tests for two related subjects: English and social studies.”

According to the Louisiana Department of Education, these exams “will include passages from books students have actually been exposed to in class, rather than brand-new material,” and students “will be asked to complete a series of brief reading and writing exams throughout the school year, to help their teachers get ‘real-time’ updates on progress,” she writes. The pilot program will initially run in five districts.

New Hampshire and Puerto Rico have also applied for testing flexibility as part of ESSA’s Innovative Assessment provisions but have yet to receive federal approval.

See below for more ESSA news.

1 Most professional development not up to federal standards

Amelia Harper writes in Education Dive that a new report from the Frontline Research & Learning Institute called “Bridging the Gap” has “compared data from more than 200 school districts against the Every Student Succeeds Act’s definition of professional learning, created with input from Learning Forward, and discovered that 80 percent or more doesn’t meet the criteria for effective professional development.” Under ESSA, professional development must be “sustained, intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, and classroom-focused.” But “Bridging the Gap” finds that a mere “13 percent of professional learning met the standard for sustained, only 9 percent met the definition of collaborative, 63 percent was job-embedded, only 8 percent was truly data-driven, 85 percent was classroom-focused, and the average length of time spent on ‘intensive’ professional development was only 4.25 hours.”

2 Anti-test movement running out of steam under ESSA

“Just a few short years ago, there were real questions about whether Congress would ditch annual, standardized assessments as part of a makeover of the nation’s main K-12 education law,” writes Alyson Klein in Education Week. “At the same time, parents were increasingly choosing to opt their children out of standardized tests.” But ESSA largely left testing untouched. And since its passage, “at least some of the steam has gone out of the opt-out movement,” even in places like New Jersey and New York, which are considered “hotbeds of anti-testing fervor.” In fact, “some of the biggest skeptics of annual, standardized testing have taken a break from what was a big push to reduce the number of federally required tests,” and “they don’t expect there will be another opportunity to roll back federal testing mandates” for quite some time.

3 ESSA and the Youth Mental Health Services Act

Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee writes in the Greeneville Sun that in an effort to combat suicide among children and teens, he has introduced bipartisan legislation with Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon called the Youth Mental Services Act, which “takes an existing grant program authorized under the Every Student Succeeds Act and allows school districts to use these funds to implement community-based mental health services for students.” The bill would also let states use funding to improve already existing mental health services and “identify and disseminate best practices for mental health first aid; assist in the establishment or implementation of emergency planning, which may include emergency response teams to address emergencies in schools; establish or identify agreements with local health agencies to improve coordination of services; and expand telehealth services.”

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