This Week’s ESSA News: Massachusetts Plan Wins Approval, Florida Tries Waiver Workaround

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.)

FutureEd, an independent think tank at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, released a new report — “Who’s In: Chronic Absenteeism Under ESSA” — which provides a “comprehensive review of the provisions in all 51 state ESSA plans, as well as the results of an analysis of federal chronic absenteeism data.” Among the findings:

  • 36 states and Washington, D.C., include chronic student absenteeism in their accountability formulas
  • At least 27 of those plans define chronic absenteeism as missing 10 percent or more of enrolled days
  • Rhode Island’s plan includes teacher absenteeism as well

Based on this research, the report says, authors Phyllis W. Jordan and Raegen Miller “offer a roadmap for leveraging ESSA to keep more students in school and on a path to academic success.”

Additionally, Child Trends has conducted “an initial scan of states’ proposed accountability systems to examine how each approached the fifth indicator.” Although “the vast majority of states selected at least one indicator” to “gauge how schools support students in areas beyond academic performance,” a “handful missed a critical opportunity to emphasize the importance of supporting children’s healthy development.”

In other ESSA news, the Education Department approved Massachusetts’s plan this week, leaving only two plans unapproved. While we wait for word on Colorado and Michigan’s plans, there are plenty of updates following last week’s final submission deadline.

After a short hurricane-related delay, Texas submitted its ESSA plan

Belton Independent School District Superintendent Susan Kincannon told the Temple Daily Telegram she has some reservations: “The [ESSA] plan includes an overly complicated methodology for evaluating and rating schools and continues to be detrimental to campuses with a higher concentration of economically disadvantaged students.” She expressed appreciation, however, for the plan’s strategic priorities. Temple Independent School District Assistant Superintendent Bobby Ott said the plan may benefit local schools.

Florida’s plan is noticeably missing waiver requests but includes a workaround

After the state submitted its ESSA plan, the Tampa Bay Times noted that it “quickly became clear that the waivers the state Department of Education planned to seek” on counting small subgroups of students, including minority kids, “were no longer there.” A “closer read of the final version, though, reveals that while the state did not request any formal waiver of the rules, its plan to work around those rules still exists,” as the “ideas are instead woven into the general application.”

On The 74, Lane Wright argued that it also seems the state may be “trying to skirt the law” on its ESSA plan, which could “mean a delay or denial in federal education funding, an unscheduled overhaul of Florida’s school grades system, or a wink and a nod from a Trump administration which may not be very keen on enforcing the law.”

Details from Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Ohio’s submissions

In Indiana, WBOI reported that thousands of diplomas could no longer “count for a school’s graduation rate” under ESSA, so the state’s congressional delegation “wants the federal Education Department to give the state more time to prepare before that change takes effect.”

In Pennsylvania, Keystone Crossroads said the ESSA plan has “created a political divide over a historically tough subject: what to do about chronically low-performing schools.” The commonwealth’s deputy education secretary, Matthew Stem, told the outlet that “Pennsylvania will still have a strong, federally required commitment to standardized testing with scores broken down by subgroup,” but the new plan “will push schools to foster better critical thinking and collaboration skills.”

And in Ohio, WDTN reported that state legislator Theresa Gavarone is proposing a bill that would give lawmakers “the final say in what the Ohio Department of Education comes up with” in terms of ESSA — which means, if passed, “legislators could block the implementation of an ESSA plan if legislators disapprove of it.”

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