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Civil Rights Groups Urge States to Ensure ESSA Plans Help Vulnerable Children

By Alyson Klein — February 04, 2019 2 min read
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A coalition of civil rights groups is urging state education chiefs to take a long, hard look at their plans to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, to make sure that schools will get the help they need in serving historically overlooked groups of children, including English learners, students in special education, and students of color.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights argues that states’ ESSA plans don’t do a good job of holding schools accountable for the performance of all children, even though they have been approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

“ESSA plans that do not hold schools sufficiently accountable for their responsibility to all children, especially groups of children who have been shortchanged for too long, fail to meet the intent of the law and will undermine ESSA’s purpose to provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps,” the organizations wrote.

The letter doesn’t say this explicitly, but some ESSA plans were written or approved by state chiefs who are no longer in office after the 2018 election. That potentially gives new chiefs a fresh start, and a reason to do a deep dive on plans written by the their predecessors.

Specifically, the Leadership Conference is hoping states will continue to involve parents, communities, and others in the ESSA process. The group especially wants to see these groups consulted on any plan amendments.

And they want to make sure that schools are being held accountable for the achievement of subgroups of students, including English learners, students in special education, racial minorities, and low-income students. Some states are using so-called “super subgroups” which combine several of these groups for accountability purposes, which the civil rights coalition argues isn’t kosher under ESSA.

The Leadership Conference also wants states to ensure that factors beyond test scores—like college and career readiness—aren’t making it easier for schools to get high-ratings, even if they aren’t serving all kids well. The group want to make sure states are holding schools accountable for test participation, and including English language proficiency in their systems. And it wants to make sure schools are making required ESSA data (including on school spending) transparent and easy to find, among other asks.

Here’s what the Council of Chief State School Officers Executive Director Carissa Moffat Miller: “State school chiefs are committed to creating a more equitable education system for all students and designed their ESSA plans focused on that commitment. States worked closely with parents, educators, community members, civil rights leaders and others in their state as they developed their plans and continue to engage them as they now implement them. States have continued to welcome the ongoing engagement of civil rights and other communities as they work to improve education for all students.”

More on how states are engaging the education community on ESSA here.

Want more? Check out the full letter here.

Want to learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act? Here’s some useful information:

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