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Monitoring ESSA Plans and Success Measures: Experts Weigh In

With talk of school choice expansion and massive federal budget cuts taking up much of today’s education conversation, it’s easy to forget that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is set to be fully implemented in the upcoming school year.

In the meantime, state education departments are furiously working to finish individual assessment and accountability plans. ESSA aims to hand control of assessment, evaluation, and school turnaround efforts from the federal government back to the states.

In April, 16 states and the District of Columbia submitted their individual accountability proposals for review, feedback, and final approval from the U.S. Department of Education. The other 34 states will submit their proposals in a second submission round in September.

As Carolyn Phenicie reports in The 74, Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit focused on improving education organizations, and the Collaborative for Student Success, a nonprofit dedicated to rigorous, high-quality state assessment standards, recently gathered a group of 30 education advocates to review and evaluate the already-submitted state plans.

Overall, the reviewers say, states are doing a good job of identifying a wide variety of accountability measures in their plans. Where those plans so far fall short is at recognizing and aiding vulnerable student groups.

More indicators of success

If there was one universal criticism of the previous federal education law, No Child Left Behind, it was that school performance measures were too closely tied to standardized test scores.

For more on how local leaders are developing ESSA plans, read Executive orders, ED, and ESSA: It’s up to local leaders

With ESSA, lawmakers aimed to give states more leeway on how they measure success and progress in their schools, including the inclusion of non-academic factors such as school climate quality and student and community engagement.

The group that reviewed the initial state plans was impressed overall with the variety of progress indicators they saw.

As Chad Aldeman, a principal at Bellwether Education Partners, told The 74: “We’re definitely seeing states broaden their accountability systems beyond static proficiency rates in reading and math.”

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Measures of success included progress in subjects other than reading and math, such as science or physical education. Every plan submitted in April also included an indicator for student growth to gauge progress among students who have fallen behind.

Recognizing all students

While the evaluators favored some plans over others, no state received the highest rating when it came to ensuring that all students, regardless of disability or socioeconomic status, receive a quality education.

Ideally, states would have measures to monitor and intervene within vulnerable student groups, such as English language learners, racial minorities, or students with disabilities. These measures would then be used to assess the school as a whole.

Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, tells The 74 that some states are doing better than others when it comes to dealing with subgroups of students. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to just sort of universally say states aren’t doing as well on subgroups,” he says.

In fact, several states are actually accounting for more students under their new plans than they did under No Child Left Behind, Phenicie reports.

It’s important to note that state plans are not yet finalized. Feedback from groups like Bellwether and the Collaborative for Student Success as well as the Department of Education is intended to help fix gaps or holes in late-stage drafts.

When the plans are finalized, Minnich says it’s important that they be seen as a blueprints:

“I don’t think everything that’s in these plans is the entirety of what a state is going to do. I don’t think it’s fair to think just the federal plan is going to be the only thing a state is going to do to help their kids.”

Are you closely monitoring the progress of your state’s ESSA accountability plan? What success indicators do you want to see included? Anything you don’t want to see?  Tell us in the comments.