ESSA’s New Report Cards Arrive Just In Time For This Year’s Election

By Daarel Burnette II — October 29, 2018 2 min read
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All of the political infighting last year in states over their accountability plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act has pretty much died down.

But state education departments over the last two months have been rolling out their newest rankings of schools under the federally mandated ESSA plans and, with all the new indicators, there are inevitably lots of changes to districts’ academic performance.

The releases come just in time for this year’s election season, and gubernatorial and legislative candidates in states including Maryland, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas are attempting to exploit the newest results.

Most recently, in Oregon, incumbent Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, was accused by Republican opponent Knute Buehler of delaying the release of the state’s new report card until after the election to avoid political pushback. Those accusations came after the Oregonian published a story revealing that the state’s education department planned to miss the state’s deadline of releasing the new report card.

In the face of criticism, Brown ordered the department to release the results.

“It shouldn’t take the threat of the governor losing her election for her to do the right thing,” Buehler said on Twitter. “Oregonians and especially our students and parents, deserve better than this. Help is on the way in 13 days.”

Brown said the data was ready, but that the state was still working to redesign the new report card. In addition, the department was trying to figure out how to handle the rankings of schools with high opt-out rates from statewide tests (the state’s opt-out laws conflict with the federal requirements), and was crafting new resources and supports for struggling schools.

Oregon’s schools have struggled tremendously in years past. How to improve them and provide them with more money, despite little tax revenue to distribute in the state, has become central to the state’s politics.

Rolling out a new accountability system takes savvy communication skills. Many state education departments see the new report cards as a fresh start to school accountability after years of districts, teachers, and parents distrusting rankings that many saw as too reliant on testing and designed based on a federal blueprint. But some states, such as Florida, Indiana, and Utah have struggled to roll out separate federal and state accountability systems,a bureaucratic headache for district officials.

And as my colleague Alyson Klein recently pointed out, some states’ ESSA plan could be at risk of being overhauled next year if the Nov. 6 elections usher in new state leadership.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.