How Will America’s New Education Law Change Your School? 5 Experts Point to the Best New Ideas From ESSA Plans

This article is part of The 74’s ongoing coverage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, and the new law’s implementation across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. You can follow our complete coverage here — and see state-by-state updates via our interactive ESSA map at ESSA.The74Million.org.

Earlier this year, the Collaborative for Student Success and Bellwether Education Partners brought together more than 30 education experts — with state and national experience, Republicans and Democrats — to independently review the first 17 state ESSA plans submitted to the U.S. Department of Education.

While the results of that review can be found at CheckStatePlans.org, peer reviewers also shared their thoughts on different aspects of state ESSA plans — topics like what they were looking for, what they wished they had seen, and what they’re hoping to see in the second round. In this new series, we’ll be sharing those thoughts as we lead up to next week’s review of ESSA plans submitted by the 34 second-round states.

Reviewers had many different perspectives — and priorities — coming into the review. So, we asked them: what’s the best new idea you’ve seen in state plans so far?

Here’s what they had to say.

1 Diane Stark Rentner, Center on Education Policy: Measuring growth in high schools

“Those of us who reviewed Indiana’s plan were impressed by many of its features. For me, their academic indicator for high schools was innovative because the state went beyond the measuring student proficiency and included a growth measure. In addition, high schools will be awarded points for students who pass the graduation qualifying exam after initially failing to pass it in the ninth grade. These approaches to measuring achievement give high schools incentives to improve student performance on a variety of measures.”

2 Aaron Churchill, The Thomas B. Fordham Institute – Ohio: Clearly communicating school quality

“What struck me was the diversity of these plans. Each state is taking a different approach to setting goals for achievement, holding schools accountable, and helping all schools and students succeed. Though a less conventional method, Washington’s idea for grading schools seemed very promising. Under its plan, schools receive points based on their statewide percentile rankings in growth and proficiency. Users can then easily see which schools are, say, in the top 10 percent in growth — the highest performers within the state. I think it’s great to see Washington’s leaders working to communicate school quality in a way that they feel makes sense to families and educators in their state.”

3 Kathy Cox, former Georgia superintendent of public schools: Measures of proficiency and growth, and transparency info for parents

“The best new idea I saw was West Virginia’s proposal to use Lexiles and Quantiles as measures of proficiency and growth for their school accountability system. While many people still will need to become more familiar with these measures of literacy and numeracy, I think that once they do, they will find them quite easy to understand and will appreciate that with one single ‘score,’ they can see whether a student is performing at the college- and career-ready level and if that student has grown in their literacy and numeracy proficiency over the course of a school year.

“I also like that West Virginia’s plan is very transparent how individual students’ scores add up to the score for a school. I think this idea is also innovative because it can be a consistent measure for parents regardless of what test the state decides to use in the future.”

4 David Dunn, consultant and former education department official under President George W. Bush: School improvement with comprehensive supports

“Indiana’s plan is a model for other states in terms of supporting schools in improvement. They have a clear system of robust indicators. But, the plan to help schools in improvement really stood out because it includes a comprehensive set of supports. Most interesting: they will use their school improvement set aside to provide planning grants to identified schools and, as schools go forward in the process, Indiana will provide robust support activities. Ultimately, Indiana’s exit criteria are clear and rigorous, including a required plan as to how the improvement will be sustained over time.”

5 Paige Kowalski, Data Quality Campaign: School- and district-determined measures

“Looking at Kentucky’s accountability indicators, it’s clear the state is committed to equity in their schools and to getting people meaningful information they can use to help kids learn. I also appreciate that the plan includes school- and district-determined measures. Communities need to see themselves represented in the plan, and this type of local input will help the state collaborate with districts to achieve their ambitious goals for all students.

“While the locally determined measures are innovative, it is unclear if they meet the comparability requirement in ESSA. If not, I’d like to see the state implement this in partnership with their districts alongside their state accountability system to ensure communities have the information they need to ensure student success.”

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