Every Student Succeeds Act

States Gird for Shifting Role on Accountability

By Alyson Klein — November 10, 2015 4 min read

If the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is renewed in the next several months, the final version is likely to give a lot more running room to states when it comes to crafting their school accountability systems.

So are states ready for a rollback in federal oversight? What shape will their accountability systems take? And how will they ensure continued progress on the part of the traditionally low-performing subgroups of students that the No Child Left Behind Act—the current version of the ESEA—was designed to help?

Those questions are paramount as top education lawmakers on both sides of the U.S. Capitol—Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Reps. John Kline, R-Minn., and Bobby Scott, D-Va.—strive to put the finishing touches on compromise legislation to renew the ESEA law.

Accountability is said to be a major issue behind the scenes in those negotiations, with both chambers having passed their own versions of the reauthorization.

But no matter what happens with the ESEA, states aren’t likely to go in a radically different direction on accountability, the Council of Chief State School Officers says in a report released last week.

Thanks in part to the Obama administration’s waivers from many of the mandates of the NCLB law, states already have taken greater control of how they measure student performance, rate schools, and intervene in schools that aren’t making progress, said Chris Minnich, the executive director of the CCSSO.

States “now own their accountability systems. In No Child Left Behind times, it was sort of a passive [acceptance] of what’s going on at the federal level,” Minnich said at an event in Washington at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. The CAP event coincided with the release of the CCSSO report on accountability.

Even before waivers were offered, the CCSSO explained in its report, more than 40 states signed on to some general principles of accountability systems, including identifying achievement gaps and working to close them; providing timely information on outcomes to educators; giving failing schools extra attention and support; and allowing systems to evolve and grow over time.

State Commitment

Over the past several years, Minnich said at the CAP event, states have begun thinking more about how they can fix and support schools—not just label them.

Carey Wright, Mississippi’s state chief, agreed, saying her state isn’t likely to back off its school turnaround efforts.

“Behind every data point is a face. ... I can’t imagine looking at data and then saying ‘OK,’ and moving on,” Wright said. “We’ve got to take action.”

For instance, she said, the Magnolia State is considering what turnaround strategies work best for rural schools.

The CCSSO report highlighted other state action already in play around richer accountability, closing the achievement gap, or school turnarounds.

For instance, New Mexico has cooked up an accountability system that considers factors beyond just test scores and graduation rates, including participation in college-entrance exams and dual-credit coursework.

And Minnesota provides its districts with individual reports showing how close they are to the statewide goal of cutting the achievement gap in half by 2017.

States are committed to those activities, the report said. They won’t drop them just because a new ESEA might replace the waivers.

Subgroup Quandary

But there are some concerns that students who have traditionally been overlooked—so-called “subgroup students,” such as students in special education, English-language learners, and black and Hispanic students—haven’t been a priority under the administration’s waivers.

Those waivers ask states to take dramatic action in the 5 percent of schools that are performing the worst overall, plus another 10 percent of schools with big achievement gaps or other problems.

The trouble is that many subgroup students aren’t in those kinds of schools, said Daria Hall, the director of K-12 policy for the Education Trust, which looks out for poor and minority students.

The vast majority of students of color “are in schools that are doing OK overall, but not for those groups of kids,” Hall said at the CAP panel. Schools shouldn’t be able to earn the highest rating on state accountability systems, she said, if subgroup students aren’t making good progress—as some have been able to under waivers.

“It can’t be, ‘Oh you got an A, but you’re missing goals for your black kids,’ ” she said.

Turnaround Issue

Carmel Martin, who helped develop and implement the waivers as a top aide at the U.S. Department of Education, said the idea of a bottom 5 percent was to give state education agencies a manageable number of schools to concentrate their most dramatic efforts on.

But she agreed that it’s also important to consider subgroup performance. Martin, who is now CAP’s executive vice president for policy, pointed to the organization’s analysis, released in late October, of Education Department data.

‘Firmly Committed’

CAP found that in 42 states, the gap between Hispanic and white students was bigger in top-performing schools than in struggling ones. In 39 states, the gap between black and white students was also greater in otherwise successful schools than in schools that are foundering.

There’s also a chance that an ESEA renewal doesn’t pass during the next few months. In that case, it may be up to the next president to reimagine the federal role on accountability, perhaps through his or her own set of waivers.

If that happens, states will roll with it, but they are sticking by their principles, the CCSSO said in its report.

“State chiefs will continue to lead and remain firmly committed to strong accountability aligned to the principles,” the report says.

A version of this article appeared in the November 11, 2015 edition of Education Week as States Prepare for Shifting Role on Accountability

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Addressing Learning Loss: What Schools Need to Accelerate Reading Instruction in K-3
When K-3 students return to classrooms this fall, there will be huge gaps in foundational reading skills. Does your school or district need a plan to address learning loss and accelerate student growth? In this
Content provided by PDX Reading
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Advance Educational Equity
Schools are welcoming students back into buildings for full-time in-person instruction in a few short weeks and now is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and systems to build
Content provided by PowerMyLearning
Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Every Student Succeeds Act Biden Education Department Approves One Request to Cancel State Tests But Rejects Others
Officials will allow D.C. to cancel tests. They denied similar requests from two other states and approved less extensive waiver requests.
6 min read
Image of students taking a test.
smolaw11/iStock/Getty
Every Student Succeeds Act Republicans Tell Miguel Cardona His Plan for ESSA Waivers Seems to Violate the Law
The Every Student Succeeds Act doesn't permit the education secretary to seek certain data he's asking for, the two GOP lawmakers say.
4 min read
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, left, listens as Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, center, speaks during a press briefing at the White House on March 17, 2021.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, left, listens as Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, center, speaks during a press briefing at the White House on March 17, 2021.
Andrew Harnik/AP
Every Student Succeeds Act How Will ESSA Hold Up During COVID-19? Pandemic Tests the Law's Resilience
Lawmakers designed ESSA to limit mandates covering issues like how tests are used. Will that affect how well the law survives the pandemic?
6 min read
Every Student Succeeds Act Betsy DeVos Tells States Not to Expect Waivers From Annual Tests
The tests required by federal law are crucial to helping schools respond to the coronavirus pandemic and help vulnerable students, the education secretary said in a letter to chief state school officers.
3 min read