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Every Student Succeeds Act

Key Democrats Want Revisions to Draft ESSA Rules on Student Growth, Subgroups

By Andrew Ujifusa — August 02, 2016 3 min read
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The top two Democratic lawmakers in Congress on education policy think the proposed accountability rules for federal K-12 law should let schools put more emphasis on student growth, give states more time to identify low-performing schools, and tighten requirements for identifying struggling students.

In finalizing accountability regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act, the U.S. Department of Education should also require states to be more aggressive in identifying resource inequities in schools, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va. (the ranking Democrats on their respective chambers’ education committees), wrote to the department in a letter dated Monday.

Murray and Scott did praise the proposed ESSA rules for requiring a “single, summative” rating for schools, a provision that’s gotten a lot of praise and a lot of pushback over the last two months. And they like how the proposal puts a priority on academic indicators when identifying struggling schools.

The draft rules were formally released and opened up for public comment in May, and that comment period closed Aug. 1.

Letting Students Slip

Echoing the views of many civil rights advocacy groups, one of the biggest concerns expressed by Murray and Scott is that under the proposed rules, states would have too much leeway in how they define subgroups of students that are consistently underperforming.

The two Democrats say allowing states to define that based on a student subgroup’s performance compared to all students’ performance, or based on a single accountability indicator, “would allow a subgroup’s performance to decline for many years without invoking any action by the state to address underperformance.”

They want the department to measure consistent underperformance using all academic indicators, and by measuring subgroups of students against the states’ standards and long-term goals.

Murray and Scott also want the department to lower the minimum number of students from a particular group that a school would have to have for that group to count for accountability purposes. (More on that wonktastic issue here.) That current threshold in the draft ESSA rules is 30. The two Democrats want a lower number in order to capture more students, they say, but they don’t pick a number they’d prefer.

Another area where the two lawmakers think the rules need revisions is student growth. But in this case, they believe the department hasn’t given states enough flexibility. Murray and Scott want to change the proposal to allow elementary and middle schools to use growth, combined with proficiency, when it comes to ESSA’s academic indicators.

And, as do many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, Murray and Scott believe that the timeline in the proposed rules is problematic. Instead of identifying schools needing improvement in the 2017-18 school year, the first year ESSA kicks in, they want that identification to wait until the 2018-19 school year.

But as we stated above, the top K-12 Democrats on education say there’s plenty to like about the proposed rules. Specifically, they praise the department for how it’s handled test-participation requirements (a thorny issue thanks to the opt-out movement); for reiterating the prohibition of using super-subgroups for accountability purposes; and for requiring that each school be given a single rating. The latter, they write, is “understandable and actionable for parents, communities, and taxpayers.”

UPDATE: Murray also wrote a joint letter with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. and the Senate education committee chairman, stressing concerns they have about the timeline.

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