The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) returned the bulk of responsibility to states and districts for how the accountability system identifies and supports Title I schools in need of improvement. All states have now submitted and had their state ESSA plans approved. All will begin to implement their accountability systems in the coming months—and identification is certainly broader than the simple test-based accountability systems required by NCLB; however, many states have unfortunately, though not surprisingly, maintained the status quo. Proficiency rates on low-quality standardized tests by and large account for the bulk of the determination of school ratings.

The way that states will identify their lowest-performing schools is largely decided and enshrined in their state ESSA plans (and, in some cases, state law), but the school improvement process was left largely undefined in most state plans. This means there is still time to ensure states and districts truly think through how to best support schools that are in need of improvement.

(For an overview of ESSA in general, see ESSA 101: Brief One; for more information on the requirements of state ESSA plans, see ESSA 101: Brief Two).

1. LEARN WHAT’S IN YOUR STATE’S ESSA PLAN.

Each state’s full plan and related documents
Your state’s department of education website will have the ESSA plan for the state, along with other resources and explanations: www2.ed.gov/admins/lead/account/stateplan17/statesubmission.html

2. GET A SENSE OF TRENDS ACROSS THE COUNTRY ON KEY PIECES OF ESSA.

Key takeaways from each state: www.edweek.org/ew/section/multimedia/key-takeaways-state-essa-plans.html

Making ESSA’s Equity Promise Real: State Strategies to Close the Opportunity Gap
This provides an overview of five indicators (suspension rates, school climate, chronic absenteeism, extended-year graduation rates, and college and career readiness), why they’re important, and a deeper look at how some states are using them. It also includes policy considerations for implementation. Includes briefs, archived webinar and interactive map.https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/essa-equity-promise

3. DETERMINE PRIORITIES AND PLACES FOR ADVOCACY.

Once you know what’s in your state’s plan, you will have a better sense of decision points yet to be made at the state, district and school levels, and be able to develop advocacy and policy priorities based on already-determined needs. Some you may want to consider:

Funding reporting
ESSA requires reporting of each school’s per-pupil spending, a departure from the past practice of states reporting each district’s average per-pupil spending. Be aware of what this means for your state or district, and prepare for how you will help teachers, parents and other stakeholders understand these numbers.

Assessment
Due in large part to the stringent requirements that come without additional funding, only two states (Louisiana and New Hampshire) have applied and received approval for an innovative assessment pilot, although four more states have signaled interest for the second round, for which applications are due in December 2018. However, there are other ways to innovate outside of doing a pilot.

Needs assessment
ESSA requires that a needs assessment be done for schools that have been identified for comprehensive support and improvement, as well as in a few other circumstances. It is potentially one of the most powerful components of the accountability process; it should help educators and other stakeholders identify, understand and prioritize the needs that must be addressed to improve performance.

  • Needs Assessment Guidebook: Supporting the Development of District and School Needs Assessments
    This guidebook is designed to support state and local leaders in the first step of the improvement process: the development and facilitation of a needs assessment. However, it is a useful guide for anyone interested in being involved in the planning, implementation or assessment of the process. https://statesupportnetwork.ed.gov/system/files/needsassessmentguidebook-508_003.pdf

School Improvement
The most important piece of any functioning accountability system—supporting and improving teaching and learning for students—was also, in many cases, the least described in state plans. This means there is potentially a lot of advocacy to be done at the state, district and even school levels.

4. CHANGE YOUR STATE’S PLAN.

States with new governors and state school chiefs after the elections may lead to requests to amend state plans. If you are in a state that has had governance changes, make sure you are at the table and ready to amend the plan for the better. The administration has notified states that they would like changes to state plans to be submitted by March 1, 2019 for the 2019-20 school year.

5. GET IN TOUCH WITH AFT NATIONAL.

Have questions or need our assistance? Contact Beth Antunez in Government Relations or Emily Kopilow in Educational Issues.

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