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SNAPSHOT | Policy Primer

The State of Play On ESSA Rules

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Since the Every Student Succeeds Act was signed in December, the Obama administration has been busy cranking out regulations to govern different parts of the law, including testing, spending, and accountability. Each needs to go through a lengthy federal process.

Here’s where they stand:

Assessments

What would the proposed regulations do?

  • Clarify that computer-adaptive tests can replace paper-and-pencil tests, but the assessment must show whether a student is on grade level.
  • Explain that if districts want to substitute a “nationally recognized test” for the state exam in high school, they must pick a test that’s accepted for college admissions or placement.
  • Specify that states need to offer assessments for English-language learners in the second-most-popular language in the state, other than English.
  • Set rules for when a state can get flexibility from a part of the law that makes it clear that only 1 percent of students in the state can take alternative tests because of a severe cognitive disability.
Image by Getty

Where do the regulations stand in the process?

  • Under ESSA, the regulations on assessment first needed to go through a special process called “negotiated rulemaking.” So last spring, a group of educators got together in a room and tried to hash out testing rules. In this case, their effort was a success. The group agreed on regulations in April.
  • The department formally released these regulations in draft form for comment on July 11. The public had until Sept. 9 to submit its views.

What are the sticking points?

  • Negotiators had a tough time deciding how cognitive disabilities should work, but ultimately decided that each state should craft its own definition, as long as it considers both students’ academic potential and their behavior in school.

» OUTLOOK: Major changes are unlikely; regulations are expected to be finalized this fall.


Accountability and State Plans

What would the proposed regulations do?

  • Set rules of the road for school rating systems under ESSA.
  • Require states to come up with an overall rating for their schools and require that low-performing schools improve on academic measures—not an area like school climate—to stop being subject to interventions.
  • Make it clear states must take significant action in schools with low test-participation rates, and more.

Where do the regulations stand in the process?

  • Draft regulations were released May 31; comments were due Aug. 1, and more than 20,000 groups and individuals weighed in.

What are the sticking points?

  • The timeline for identifying low-performing schools and the proposed requirement for an overall “summative” rating.
  • Other parts of the proposed regulations, including the test-participation provisions, also have drawn ire.

» OUTLOOK: Final regulations are expected this fall, but they could face some pushback.


Innovative Assessment Pilot

What would the proposed regulations do?

  • Set rules for up to seven states to use local tests in lieu of the state exam for accountability, within some strict parameters. For instance, the local tests must eventually be used statewide.
  • Set up some additional guardrails for those local tests. For instance, the proposal explains how states can prove their test results are comparable from one district to the next and to the state exam.
  • Make clear that states can choose just one grade or subject for the innovative tests.

Where do the regulations stand in the process?

  • The department released draft regulations on July 11.
  • Comments were due Sept. 9.

What are the sticking points?

  • Some parents have commented that the regulation might lead to too much “data mining.”

» OUTLOOK: Final regulations are due out this fall. Approval should be smooth sailing.


Supplement-Not-Supplant

What would the proposed regulations do?

  • Make clear how districts under ESSA can show that federal Title I dollars for disadvantaged children provide students with additional resources, not make up for shortages in state and local spending.
  • States and districts need to show that Title I schools are getting roughly the same quality and level of resources as other schools before they can tap federal Title I dollars.
  • To do that, districts can use a weighted student-funding formula, come up with their own formula to equalize resources, or use another method to make sure that resources are equitable, among other options.
Image by Getty

Where do the regulations stand in the process?

  • The negotiated-rulemaking process failed to produce rules for ESSA, so the department released its own draft regulation for public comment on Sept. 6. The public has until Nov. 7 to comment before the rules are finalized.

What are the sticking points?

  • Civil rights advocates, such as the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, like the department’s proposal, saying it solves a long-standing problem with Title I.
  • Advocates for state chiefs and educators say the proposal would be difficult to comply with, if not unworkable.
  • Republicans in Congress, including Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the education committee chairman, have threatened to block the regulations, possibly through a spending bill.

» OUTLOOK: Final regulations are slated to come out sometime this fall, but this could be a stormy issue for a long while.

Vol. 36, Issue 04, Page 15

Published in Print: September 14, 2016, as The State of Play On ESSA Rules
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