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Every Student Succeeds Act

Here’s How the Education World Thinks the Feds Should Regulate Under ESSA

By Andrew Ujifusa — January 22, 2016 7 min read
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How should the U.S. Department of Education regulate under the Every Student Succeeds Act? People got a chance to share their thoughts with the department face-to-face during two hearings this month. But the public also got a chance to submit public comments on the Internet. The comment period for those submissions just closed Thursday. And as of about 6 p.m. that day, there were more than 200 comments filed.

So what were some of the highlights? You probably won’t be surprised to learn that accountability took up a lot of the oxygen in the comments. And testing issues like how to handle opt-outs were also expounded upon. Plus, school turnaround issues and funding got some attention.

We’ve tried to organize the highlighted comments into several categories where there was a lot of input. Confession: We haven’t been through all 200-plus comments. But don’t worry, this isn’t the last time we’ll take a look at what folks want to see in ESSA regs.

Comments on the Federal Role

  • National Governors Association: The department should use a light touch in regulating on ESSA, and not go further than Congress intended. “Guidance should be the primary tool the federal government uses to inform state efforts to implement ESSA.” Governors should be consulted on any big moves since they are, after all, in charge of their state K-12 systems. Plus, the department should allow for flexible timelines, including early implementation of the new law.

Comments on Accountability

  • National Conference of State Legislatures: “State legislators feel that the approach laid out in ESSA, with broad guidelines to ensure a focus on all groups of students, is appropriate. However, there is a danger that the department will write regulations that impose a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Instead, states should be able to determine the relative weights of the indicators in the system. The important element is that the indicators have multiple measures of performance, unlike the single metric of adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind.”

  • National School Boards Association: “With regard to state accountability systems, the department should seek input from states and local school districts and provide explicit non-binding guidance and best practices that can help states and school districts identify, set, and use a variety of student success indicators.”
  • South Dakota Department of Education: “The South Dakota Department of Education respectfully urges the U.S. Department of Education ... to allow for states to publish the first accountability report cards under the new law following the 2017-18 school year. Currently, as the timeline stands, it would be nearly impossible for states to publish the new report cards under the Every Student Succeeds Act with data from the 2016-17 school year in time for the 2017-18 school year.

  • League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC): “ESSA requires certain action from schools that have subgroups that are ‘consistently underperforming.’ Regulation, guidance, and technical assistance to states on this provision should explain that the definition of ‘consistently underperforming’ needs to factor in both longevity of underperformance (time) as well as the severity of underperformance (academic gap)—but the severity of underperformance at a given school should raise the priority level despite any time interval.”

  • Washington Teachers’ Union: “The department should encourage truly robust accountability systems with factors beyond test scores considered an equal par as test scores, not as afterthoughts.”

  • National PTA: “National PTA recommends that ED issue regulations to provide guidance in the following areas: (1) the method by which states identify consistently underperforming subgroups within a school, measure progress toward goals, and establish a timeline for action when subgroups of students are not making progress; (2) the method by which school resource inequalities are identified for additional targeted supports in its improvement plan; and (3) the 95 percent participation rate in the annual measurement of achievement of students and how opt-out options will be calculated in the accountability system.”

  • Texas Appleseed: “It is important that states choose ‘school climate and safety’ as an indicator of school quality and student success ... A positive and supportive school climate encourages students to attend school, engage with teachers and peers, and thrive academically.”

  • Chiefs for Change: “A focus on the lowest-performing students, from all backgrounds, is the single best way to make sure that no students are excluded from state and local accountability requirements ... Federal rulemaking must not inhibit the ability of states to continue to focus on the lowest-performing students.”

Comments on Testing

  • National PTA: “Specifically, ED needs to provide greater clarity by defining the following terms: ‘consistent underperformance,’ ‘substantial weight’ and ‘much greater’ as they relate to the indicators for annual meaningful differentiation of public schools.”
  • National Title I Association: “ED has indicated that it will continue to peer-review state assessments. Under ESSA, ED should simply ensure that assessments meet the requirement of the law and highlight any major concerns from stakeholders, but should maintain the law’s intended flexibility.”

  • Association of Test Publishers: “As difficult as it is to balance competing interests related to this issue, the department must continue to prevent states from circumventing this participation requirement, whether through purposeful efforts or because of parental decisions to ‘opt out’ children from the statewide assessment.”
  • Washington Teachers’ Union: Encourages the department “to work swiftly to allow states and districts to have better and fewer assessments so that more time can be spent teaching and learning. This means that the department should quickly establish a pilot program for innovative assessments so states willing to try project-based assessments can do so, and other places, like [the District of Columbia] can learn from them.”
  • Chiefs for Change: “We believe that any rulemaking related to the 95 percent assessment requirement must make it clear that there is no ‘wiggle room’ when it comes to implementing this foundational provision.”
  • Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the Learning Policy Institute: “High-quality assessments are critical in helping educators and students master deeper learning. No single assessment can evaluate all of the kinds of learning we value for students, nor can a single instrument meet all of the goals held by parents, practitioners, and policymakers.”

Comments on Funding

  • National Title I Association: “Additional guidance is needed on supplement, not supplant requirements. The language of ESSA clearly directs ED to provide more latitude to states and districts so long as the methodology for allocating funds is compliant with the intent of the supplement, not supplant requirement. ... [C]lear information is needed on what is expected from districts and states.”

Comments on Teacher Policy

  • LULAC: “The Education Department should: (1) Define ‘inexperienced teachers’ in a way that doesn’t just factor length of time, but also factors in relevant coursework, preparation, student teaching, and a teacher’s set of experience working with culturally and linguistically diverse populations. (2) Encourage states and districts to base determinations of ‘effectiveness’ on multiple measures that reflect the varying degrees of effectiveness rather than a binary approach.”

  • National Council for Teacher Residencies: “The department should confirm that the launch and support of teacher residencies are allowable uses of SEA and LEA Title II funds, to achieve equitable access and as a comprehensive approach to improve teacher preparation and support.”

Comments on School Turnarounds

  • Knowledge Alliance: “While we believe that SEAs and LEAs should have the flexibility to choose turnaround approaches that best meet the needs of the students in the struggling schools, we also believe that school improvement strategies should be based on evidence and evaluated for continuous improvement. Therefore, we urge the department to explicitly clarify in regulation that the school improvement set-aside should be used to support the implementation of evidence-based interventions.”

Photo: Nimra Mian and other 7th graders at Marshall Simonds Middle School in Burlington, Mass., take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) field test in 2014. Gretchen Ertl for Education Week-File

Alyson Klein, Assistant Editor contributed to this article.