What’s at Stake for Schools in ESSA Implementation?

With DPI listening sessions about to begin, we’re providing a several-part analysis of what decisions the state and local districts will need to make to implement the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Let’s start with some of the basics of the new federal law. In future posts we’ll delve into more detail… first on the decisions states must make, then on what ESSA will require of local districts.

As a starting point, ESSA provides the framework for Title I funding, the largest federally funded K-12 program ($14.9 billion in federal Fiscal Year 2016), as well as other federal funding. Title I provides formula grants to local school districts and high-poverty schools for the purpose of enhancing educational opportunities for disadvantaged children.

States receiving Title I funds must adopt academic standards and assessments in reading/English language arts, mathematics and science.  Additionally, states must adopt systems of intervention and improvement for schools that are academically struggling, both on the whole, and with regard to particular subgroups of students.

ESSA replaces the previous No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  Importantly, ESSA replaces NCLB’s  “adequate yearly progress” system with a state-defined index system with certain federally required components.   Here’s a closer look:

Goals—Under ESSA, states must establish “ambitious state-designed long term goals” with measurements of interim progress toward meeting such goals for:

  1. Improved academic achievement on state assessments;
  2. Graduation rates; and
  3. Progress in achieving English language proficiency for English learners.

State Index—The state-defined index must include the following indicators:

  1. Academic indicators
    a)  Academic achievement based on the annual assessments and on the state’s goals.
    b)  A measure of student growth or another statewide academic indicator for    elementary and middle schools.
    c)  Graduations rates for high schools based on the state’s goals.
    d)  English proficiency based on the state’s goals.
  2. Measure(s) of School Quality and Student Success
    a) At least one measure of school quality or student success (e.g., student and educator engagement. Access and completion of advanced coursework, postsecondary readiness, school climate, safety or another state indicator.

Based on the performance of schools and subgroups within schools on the indicators described above, states are required to “meaningfully differentiate: public schools in the state.  Under ESSA, “substantial weight” must be given to the Academic Indicators (described above). Further, these four Academic Indicators must, when taken together, be given “much greater weight” in differentiating schools that any Measures of School Quality or Student Success.

Under ESSA, state accountability systems must test 95 percent of all students as well as 95 percent of each subgroup of students. States are given the responsibility to determine how the testing participation rate of each school will factor into the state’s accountability system.

Identification of Schools for Comprehensive Support and Improvement—At least once every three years, state must identify schools for “comprehensive support and improvement.” States must also set exit standards for schools so identified to be able to exit such status. Schools that meet the following criteria are required to be identified:

  1. The lowest performing 5 percent of schools in the state (as determined by the state’s index system and differentiation process).
  2. High schools that graduate less than two-thirds of their students.
  3. Schools in which a subgroup if consistently underperforming in the same manner as a school in first two categories for a state-determined number of years.

Districts must develop comprehensive support and improvement plans for identified schools. Plans are required to include evidence-based interventions, identify resource inequities, and be approved by the school district and state. Districts may provide students with the option to transfer to another public school, including paying for their transportation costs (up to 5 percent of their Title I allocation). After a state-determined period of years (not to exceed four years), the state must take more rigorous action if a school identified for comprehensive support and improvement has not met the exit criteria. Identification for comprehensive support and improvement will begin with the 2017-18 school year, based on 2016-17 assessment results.

Next: More On State Accountability Plans