This Week’s ESSA News: New Jersey Advocates Concerned About Cuts to In-School Mental Health Services, Virginia Looks to Revise State Education Plan to Better Educate Migratory Students & More

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.)

After months of uncertainty, education leaders, teachers, researchers and advocates received an answer as to whether state annual assessments would resume this school year following an abrupt cancellation this past spring due to the coronavirus. In a letter to all state superintendents — not just the small handful who had already begun seeking a second assessment waiver — Secretary Betsy DeVos said that annual, summative assessments are “at the very core” of the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 and are “among the most reliable tools available to help us understand how are performing in school.”

For those reasons, DeVos writes, states “should not anticipate such waivers being granted again.”

State education leaders were quick to respond to the decision, though reactions ranged from denunciation to understanding. Under ESSA, states must administer an annual, summative assessment to capture student achievement in English/Language Arts, Mathematics and Science for use in accountability plans and to meet transparency reporting requirements.

Widespread cancellation of testing this spring was the first time that a nationwide assessment waiver has been issued since the passage of the landmark education law.

Here are some of the week’s top developments for how states are implementing (and innovating under) ESSA:

Virginia looks to make changes to state ESSA plan around education of migratory children

The Virginia Department of Education is accepting feedback on three proposed changes to its ESSA state plan, all of which were introduced prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The changes would clarify requirements for students who take advanced math courses prior to the eighth grade, details a policy around the education of migratory children and “would expand the list of state-level activities supported by Title IV, Part A funding,” which largely supports technology and internet programs.

Concerns over New Jersey’s plan to cut funds for in-school mental health services and fold them into state program

The decision to cut funding for an in-school mental health program resulted in some confusion and concern for the communities of the 90 New Jersey schools where the program operates. In response, a spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Families said that mental health services exist and are being expanded through dedicated funding detailed in the Every Student Succeeds Act, which firmly supports states building robust out-of-school services.

More than $10 million to be distributed across 45 ‘out-of-school’ programs in Indiana through Title IV 

More than $10 million will be distributed to 45 “out-of-school” programs in Indiana, according to the state department of education. The fund, which is continued through Title IV of ESSA, focuses on providing support to “local programs providing a safe and enriching learning environment to bolster regular school-day learning and programming.”

D.C. state superintendent of education to step down next month

D.C. State Superintendent Hanseul Kang announced that she is preparing to depart the office in coming months, prompting reflections on her time as D.C.’s chief education official.

Notably, supporters and critics alike point to Kang’s focus on reshaping teacher recruitment and retention policies, her goals to develop accurate and informative student assessment and data systems, and her execution of the District’s accountability plan under ESSA, which established the current school ratings system and school quality report cards.

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