This Week’s ESSA News: Science Test Debate, a Career Readiness Blind Spot, and Massachusetts Has Work to Do

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.)
Feedback from the U.S. Department of Education continues, with Secretary Betsy DeVos “issuing critical feedback that has rattled state school chiefs and conservative education experts alike,” according to Erica Green of The New York Times.
But some lawmakers aren’t so happy. Sen. Lamar Alexander, one of the main authors of the Every Student Succeeds Act, argued that acting assistant secretary Jason Botel “hasn’t read the law carefully.” In his comments, the Tennessee Republican, himself a former education secretary, maintained his support for local control, telling Education Week that “The heart of the entire law … was that it’s the state’s decision to set goals, to decide what ‘ambitious’ means, to make decisions to help schools that aren’t performing well.”
Ryan Reyna, a senior associate at Education Strategy Group and a recent peer reviewer, argued that the department “stumbled out of the gate with respect to their initial review of the Delaware, Nevada, and New Mexico ESSA state plans.” Reyna noted that feedback lacked internal consistency and that this leaves states “in the lurch.”
Here are the week’s other top developments:
  1. Massachusetts has work to doIn another round of feedback to states, the Department of Education wants more information from Massachusetts, a state often considered to be the most ambitious in the country when it comes to education. Education Week’s Alyson Klein breaks down the feedback:
    • Massachusetts wants to measure whether students are completing “challenging coursework” using Advanced Placement exams, International Baccalaureate tests, and honors classes. But the department pushed back, saying that not all kids have access to those courses and tests.
    • The department wants Massachusetts to remove science as an indicator of academic achievement (more on this below).
    • And it wants more information on how the state will decide about school improvement — both in identifying which schools need extra support based on subgroup performance and how it will decide when a low-performing school can exit that status.

Every Student Succeeds Act: 50-State Roll Call

Check out what more than 30 education experts thought about Massachusetts’s and other state’s plans here.

  1. What if states want to use science assessments?

    Much of the debate over this stemmed from criticism over the way states want to integrate science tests into their accountability systems, so Education Week examined how states can use these other assessments under ESSA. Alyson Klein clarifies that “states can use science test scores to judge both kinds of schools,” meaning elementary/middle schools and high schools, but “they need to meet certain requirements.” So far, Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Tennessee, and other states can do it, but they must be used as an “indicator of school quality and student success, or as the second academic indicator for elementary and middle schools.”

  1. States are missing an opportunity to address career readiness

    Advance CTE and the Education Strategy Group examined state ESSA plans for mentions of career readiness. And what they found was disappointing. While more than half plan to adopt measures of career readiness in their accountability systems, several states “missed an opportunity to fully leverage ESSA to advance a statewide vision of career readiness.”

  1. How do long-term research-practice partnerships fit into ESSA?

    ESSA asks schools, districts, and states to select “evidence-based programs” for its plans. So, the University of Colorado’s Bill Penuel and Caitlin C. Farrell took a look at “a number of scenarios where long-term research-practice partnerships (RPPs) have helped districts select, adapt, and design evidence-based programs.”

    They note that these partnerships are “long-term, mutually beneficial relationships between practitioners and researchers around problems of practice.” Two strong examples they cite are the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research’s work with Illinois to support the implementation of a “fifth indicator” for school accountability, describing it as being “in many ways ahead of other states,” and the contribution the Tennessee Education Research Alliance has made to that state’s ESSA plan.

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