This Week’s ESSA News: Parent Platforms, Research-Light State Plans, and the Great Opt-Out Fade-Out

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.)

In Louisiana, as part of the state’s ESSA plan, education officials have created a user-friendly platform, which is “able to host a wide array of information on school and [child care] center quality,” and present it in ways that are clear and understandable, according to KLFY. The platform, called Louisiana School Finder, was unveiled on Nov. 7. “Louisiana students deserve a high-quality education, and families deserve a system that allows them to find a school or center that best fits their unique child’s needs or to evaluate the learning environment of the school or center in which their child is enrolled,” said State Superintendent John White. “The Louisiana School Finder makes that possible.”

MLive reports that officials in Michigan are also working on a platform to help inform parents, and they want feedback, too. The state is working on a new transparency dashboard — “an online tool containing an array of performance indicators for every public school in Michigan” — and they want input from both parents and residents. State Superintendent Brian Whiston says the developers of the dashboard “want this important school information tool to be understandable, clear, and easy for parents to use,” and encouraged parents to provide input through an online survey.

Also in Michigan, The Herald-Palladium notes that Superintendent Whiston says the state’s new school benchmarking system is being created both because it was mandated by ESSA and because the “old system wasn’t working.” Under the new system, state standardized tests will account for only 29 percent of a district’s score, with the rest broken down as follows: student growth (34 percent), graduation rate (10 percent), English learner success (10 percent), parent participation (3 percent), and other factors, such as chronic absenteeism and art, music, and physical education programs (14 percent).

More ESSA news below:

1 Opting out of the opt-out movement thanks to ESSA

According to Amelia Harper at Education Dive, the opt-out movement “appears to be slowly fading” as states have more of a say over testing under ESSA. In New York, for example, where the “opt-out movement has been the strongest,” the opt-out rate has dropped 2 percentage points in just the past year. According to a Teachers College survey, while “most Americans have heard of the opt-out movement, the majority did not support it and most misunderstood the reason parents opted out,” because those who opt out “are generally affluent parents who say they are concerned that testing affects their children’s learning experience and puts too much pressure on teachers who are judged by testing results.”

Special education advocates not loving the Empire State

Education Week’s Alyson Klein writes that special education advocates “have a message for U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos: Don’t let New York wiggle out of the Every Student Succeeds Act’s testing requirements for students with significant cognitive disabilities.” The Empire State’s ESSA plan, which was submitted to the U.S. Department of Education in September, seeks permission “to give students with significant cognitive disabilities a test that matches their instructional level, not their age.” But special education advocates like the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Task Force, an umbrella group composed of more than a dozen advocacy organizations, disagrees — strongly. They argue that New York’s request is a violation of ESSA, which says that states “must give all students a test aligned to the standards in the grade in which the student is enrolled.”

Brookings Fellow on state plans: Where’s the research?

Because ESSA asks states to include “evidence-based interventions” in their plans to turn around low-performing schools, Brookings Institution fellow Mark Dynarski took some time recently to examine a sample of state ESSA plans. He found that they “mostly ignored research on what works and what doesn’t work to achieve particular outcomes.” According to Dynarski, while ESSA created opportunities for states to leverage research and evidence in more effective ways, “most of what is in the plans could have been written fifteen years ago.” He concludes that although he expected to “see more concrete ways effectiveness research was or would be used,” instead he found something “closer to leaps of faith.”

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