This Week’s ESSA News: Senate Dems Worry, Ga. Governor Says No, Closer Round 2 Scrutiny Urged

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.)

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held an Oct. 3 hearing on state innovation under ESSA, which included some to-be-expected partisan sparring, in this case regarding how the U.S. Department of Education is handling its review of state ESSA plans.

During the hearing, Republican chairman Lamar Alexander commented that “Tennessee, Louisiana, and New Mexico have taken the most advantage of the flexibility” offered under ESSA in terms of “creating innovative state plans.”

He pointed to Tennessee’s “Ready Graduate Indicator,” Louisiana’s “career education initiative and a diverse course program,” and New Mexico’s “robust student services” as examples. These three states also scored highly on the Collaborative for Student Success and Bellwether Education Partners’ www.checkstateplans.org review of first-round ESSA plans.

Alexander also said that, despite significant obstacles and a change in power, “this has been a smooth process for states.”

But Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, was quick to say that “Even without the accountability rules to explain some of the details about how to enforce it, [ESSA] is not a blank check.”

(The 74: Senate HELP Democrats Continue to Sound Alarm on Weak ESSA Implementation)

Sen. Patty Murray, the committee’s ranking Democrat, was also critical of the process, particularly regarding “the switch from providing feedback on state plans via public letter to doing so in phone calls, where there is no written documentation.” Murray said she also feared that what she called the “totally inaccurate notion” that ESSA is “all flexibility and has no role for the federal government” was taking hold.

We have lots more ESSA news for you below.

Georgia ESSA plan no ‘deal’ for governor

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that, while Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods wants to take advantage of testing flexibility under ESSA, Gov. Nathan Deal “opposes a retreat from test scores as a critical determinant of school performance.”

Deal refused to put his signature on Georgia’s ESSA plan, noting that it fell “short in setting high expectations for Georgia students and schools.” Woods “countered that some of Deal’s recommendations would return Georgia to a culture of ‘measure, pressure, and punish.’ ”

But Deal “is not alone in his fears Georgia may be moving to a less ambitious accountability system that gives schools a pass.” The Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education’s review of the plan “cautioned the performance of poor children, minorities, immigrants and other under-performing ‘subgroups’ could be downplayed in the state scoring system.”

Education Reform Now calls for greater scrutiny of second-round plans

In a new Education Reform Now series, authors Charles Barone and Dana Laurens argue that as “the U.S. Department of Education (ED) undertakes its second round of state plan reviews under the ‘Every Student Succeeds Act’ (ESSA), it’s a good time to reflect on mistakes made in Round 1 and pay close attention to whether ED goes even further afield of its responsibilities under the law in Round 2.”

The authors state that the Education Department’s “continued failure to enforce ESSA will hurt students, especially those from historically disadvantaged groups whose long-standing inequitable treatment by states and school districts has always been the driving force behind federal education policy.”

To assist their readers “in monitoring Round 2 ESSA plan reviews,” the authors have “compiled a list of ‘bright-line’ provisions, 31 verbatim requirements under the law in three areas: standards, assessments, and accountability.

States not so innovative on indicators?

Education Week’s Daarel Burnette II also has ESSA innovation in mind, writing that, while ESSA was meant to “unleash a flood of innovation” on things like measuring school quality and student success beyond test scores, most states went with just two indicators: chronic absenteeism, and college and career readiness.

“But a lot of legislatures and some advocates (especially from the school climate community) are disappointed with the monolithic plans, and hope that as data becomes more readily available in future years, states will change or reconsider their indicators,” writes Burnette. “Expect a lot more talk in the coming months at state school board meetings about how best to collect and report this data,” as “states will have to negotiate with local officials common definitions and the design of their new report cards.”

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