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This Week’s ESSA News: Michigan’s New School Rating System Runs Afoul of Education Law, States Look to Modify Education Plans Without Federal Sign-Off & More

By Ashley Inman Zanchelli | April 9, 2019

This update on the Every Student Succeeds Act and the education plans now being implemented by states and school districts is produced in partnership with ESSA Essentials, an ongoing 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.)

In this March 27 report, Education Week’s Alyson Klein asks: “What happens if a state makes changes to its ESSA plan without Betsy DeVos’ sign-off?”

It’s a good question — one that might be answered by happenings in New Mexico, where state officials have submitted an updated ESSA plan, which is currently under review by federal education officials. “But meanwhile, the state is already taking steps to implement its new ESSA vision, even though it hasn’t gotten the federal green light. And that move could put DeVos and her team in a tough spot,” says Klein.

New Mexico “recently told schools that were supposed to be implementing state-selected turnaround plans — which could include school closures — that they could stand down, at least for a while.” Instead, state education officials will work in combination with districts to support schools on issues such as attendance and family engagement. This decision puts New Mexico “further in line with other states, most of which aren’t flagging schools for state intervention until three or four years from now.”

However, this move by the state appears to run afoul of ESSA guidance that the Trump administration published late last year, which “says states seeking to tweak their ESSA plans must get the all-clear from the education department before they can implement changes.”

See below for more ESSA news.

Are states limiting schools identified for support?

A new report by Lindsay Dworkin and Anne Hyslop for the Alliance for Excellent Education takes a look at how, under ESSA, “states have reimagined their school accountability systems and come up with new ways to identify schools for support and improvement.”

Though ESSA does include some built-in flexibility for states when it comes to approach, the law also requires states to identify schools that need additional support in three categories — comprehensive (CSI), additional targeted (ATS) and targeted support and improvement (TSI). Dworkin and Hyslop say that two states (Arkansas and Connecticut) are “likely to underidentify schools for ATS because their definitions for ‘consistently underperforming’ are narrower than ESSA’s definition for ATS schools.”

Michigan school rating system running afoul of ESSA

Jennifer Chambers reports for the Detroit News that Michigan’s newly minted A-F school rating system conflicts with ESSA and the state’s ESSA plan, according to officials at the Michigan Department of Education. MDE spokesman Martin Ackley says “the department has received guidance from the Michigan Attorney General’s Office that the new law does not fit the requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which requires states to develop plans that address standards, assessments, school and district accountability and special help for struggling schools.” This “controversial” legislation was signed into law late last year (during a lame-duck session) by outgoing Republican governor Rick Snyder, and it “requires the state to rate K-12 schools on various metrics and hand out A-F letter grades for parents to review.”

States are making progress on school improvement plans

According to a new CCSSO reportstates are “making progress developing systems that will improve schools for all students, leveraging the flexibility provided under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).”

This progress comes at a time when “states are urgently building and initiating systems aimed at ensuring all students improve academically, including students identified as low-performing under ESSA.” And of “the 41 states that responded to a survey that helped to inform the report, two-thirds stated they had made major or moderate progress on ESSA-driven responsibilities related to school improvement.” For an independent peer review of state’s school improvement efforts, click here.

Missing data can leave families and communities in the dark

Under ESSA, states are required to create report cards that provide parents and the public with meaningful information about students and schools. But when this resource is missing data, hard to find or difficult to understand, families and communities are left in the dark. For a third year, the Data Quality Campaign examined report cards from all 50 states and the District of Columbia to see how well state leaders are using their most public-facing resource to empower the public with quality information. DQC’s 2019 “Show Me the Data” report shares more findings on the state of state report cards and changes that state leaders can make to improve these resources without huge investments in time and money.

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