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This Week’s ESSA News: School Choice Missing From Many States’ Plans, Tennessee Testing Woes, South Carolina & Virginia Plans OK’d

By Blair Mann | May 6, 2018

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.)

This week, Education Week’s Alyson Klein answers the question of whether school choice is getting “short shrift” in state plans. She writes that while school choice may be “having a big moment in K-12 policy,” you would “never know it from reading” state ESSA plans. In the article, Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, notes, “There were a lot of possibilities of how states could use choice really creatively,” but most states opted not to employ them, partly owing to “lack of imagination or risk aversion. That’s something we saw more generally in the ESSA plans.”

An Education Week review of all state plans confirms Lake’s analysis, revealing that “few are taking advantage of the handful of opportunities ESSA offers to expand, lay the groundwork for, or take advantage of existing choice programs.” As Klein notes, those include using choice or charters “as a school improvement tactic, setting aside federal money for such initiatives as dual enrollment and tutoring, and offering public school choice to students in struggling schools.”

Also, late Thursday came word that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has approved two more state ESSA plans — this time for South Carolina and Virginia. According to Klein, “South Carolina is planning to consider science and social studies achievement, along with the more traditional math and science, in rating its schools,” as well as college and career readiness. Virginia will “measure chronic absenteeism alongside test scores as a measure of school quality and student success. And the state plans to pair high-performing schools with struggling ones as a school improvement strategy.” See what independent peer reviewers thought of both plans here.

Lots more on state ESSA plans (and implementation) below.

1 Will Tennessee’s “assessment woes” test DeVos’s flexibility?

Klein also reports for Education Week that Tennessee lawmakers’ recent decision to allow districts to “essentially toss this year’s assessment scores” because of major technical glitches could provide an “early gauge” of how flexible Education Secretary Betsy DeVos intends to be on ESSA implementation. Tennessee’s plan was approved last summer, but state education officials “will likely need to submit a waiver from the federal testing requirement.” The U.S. Department of Education is reviewing Tennessee’s law, but getting a waiver approved “is not a sure thing,” as “DeVos and her team appear to be trying to get away from waivers.”

2 Feds say “no way” to Indiana’s graduation rate waiver request

Speaking of waiver requests: According to Eric Weddle at Indiana Public Media, ESSA “requires states to report graduation rates uniformly,” which “means Indiana’s least rigorous diploma of the four offered, the general diploma, no longer counts in graduation rates.” Indiana education officials had hoped DeVos “would allow Indiana a one-year reprieve before a new state law kicks in to address the issue.” But the federal department has denied Indiana’s request for a waiver.

“It’s unfortunate USDOE exercised federal overreach in denying Indiana’s diploma waiver request,” said state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. “Our waiver clearly demonstrated Indiana’s diploma requirements as comparable to and often times exceeding those of other states whose ESSA plans were approved.”

3 ESSA means more info for Pennsylvania parents

Dale Mezzacappa reports for Philadelphia Public School Notebook that, thanks to Pennsylvania’s ESSA plan, within the next two years Keystone State parents and education stakeholders of all kinds will have a lot more information at their proverbial fingertips, going “far beyond” simple demographics and exam results to include reporting on “everything from absenteeism rates to new details on how schools actually spend their money.”

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