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This Week’s ESSA News: New Jersey Considers Extending Special Ed Eligibility, Virginia Educators Brace for Fallout From Enrollment Decline, Auditor Says D.C. Failed to Collect School Data & More

By Joshua Parrish | March 23, 2021

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.)

From an overnight reliance on remote learning and a national focus on learning loss to an urgent accounting of school building infrastructure and access to mental health services, the Washington Post team recounts the many ways in which COVID-19 uprooted schooling in a piece marking one year since the onset of the pandemic.

Schools, districts, and lawmakers, says the Post team, will likely continue grappling with consequences stemming from pandemic disruption for some time to come, as sharp declines in enrollment or shifts to charter or private schools, sustained use of virtual learning systems, and ongoing conversations about the role of assessments and data in guiding education strategies continue to be front-and-center conversations in most states.

The relationship between state education agencies and the federal government, in particular, will require clarification as school officials decide just how much reopening will represent a return to normalcy versus a reimagining of how education should be delivered and improved upon in a post-pandemic nation.

As we balance reflections on the past year with an eye toward the road ahead in reopening schools and recovering learning, here are five of the week’s top developments for how states are implementing (and innovating under) the Every Student Succeeds Act:

New Jersey Lawmakers Mull Extending Special Education Eligibility for Older Students

Under a proposal being considered by New Jersey lawmakers, schools would be able to provide special education services for an additional year beyond what is required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. By maintaining eligibility for students through the age of 22, as would be done by the bill, schools could address many of the unique needs and concerns of students who receive special education services, especially considering that many families say their students’ progress has stalled during a year of virtual instruction.

Though most officials say extended services are likely needed, some are questioning if schools would be able to identify and anticipate additional costs associated with the move, which some school leaders say could add hundreds of thousands of dollars to annual budgets.

Auditor: District of Columbia Failed to Collect School, Student Performance Data

According to the Office of the D.C. Auditor, District officials have failed to collect required data needed to evaluate the performance of schools, including data on student achievement, absenteeism, and enrollment and transfers, despite receiving $30 million in local and federal funding for reporting purposes.

Kathleen Patterson, the D.C. auditor, stated, “Our ability to bring about racial equity through education policy and practice is thereby crippled,” while District education officials took issue with the claims, saying significant progress has been made in collecting, analyzing, and reporting school data in the last five years.

Montana Releases Annual School Report Cards (With Caveats)

Montana has released federally required school report cards for the 2019-20 school year, while flagging that some key data points that typically rely on student test scores would be missing as assessments were cancelled at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the missing data, state officials said some new information was able to be provided, including school expenditures for nutrition and transportation programs and updated statistics from the Office of Civil Rights.

Virginia Educators and School Officials Brace for Consequences of Enrollment Drops

Continuing a trend seen across much of the nation, Virginia’s public school system is grappling with a sharp decline in enrollment numbers, particularly for students entering kindergarten.

As many parents chose to delay the start of their child’s kindergarten year to avoid an all-remote setting, schools are bracing for a drop off in students that could have significant implications for school budgets, class sizes, and staffing. Educators say the matter is complicated even further by the fact that most students will need extensive academic interventions when they return to school buildings, and uncertainty around enrollment will only make delivering needed supports more difficult.

New York’s Board of Regents Prepares Contingency if Plans to Cancel Tests Get Rejected

After announcing plans to continue pursuing a waiver of federally required statewide assessments despite Education Department guidance saying such requests would not be approved, the New York Board of Regents has released a contingency plan. In the event the Department rejects plans to cancel NY exams, the number of tests administered this school year would be sharply reduced to the four required by ESSA — ELA, Algebra I, and tests in Living and Earth Sciences.

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