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Start Thinking Now About ESSA Implementation, Acting Ed. Secretary Says


Acting U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. urged high-flying district leaders Friday to start thinking now about how their states should gauge school performance and intervene in struggling schools under the newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act.

English and math performance may be necessary for long-term success, but they may not be sufficient to a get a full picture of school performance, King said in an interview with Education Week's Leaders to Learn From event in Washington, which honors outstanding work by district leaders around the country. (Watch the video above for King's full appearance.) 

"A quality education must mean more," King said. "A quality education must mean a well-rounded education. A quality education must mean what we'd want for our own children—science and social studies and access to the arts," as well as opportunities for socio-emotional learning and health.

Under ESSA, states have to pick at least one indicator of school quality—like teacher engagement, student engagement, or success in advanced coursework—to gauge school performance. But if these new systems are actually going to work, "innovative and courageous" educators need to get involved, King said. 

"You've got to be a part of these state conversations to make them transformative," he said.

ESSA Timeline

Later, in a question-and-answer session with Virginia B. Edwards, the president of Editorial Projects in Education, which publishes Education Week, King addressed the timeline for implementation of ESSA. And he didn't give specific target dates for finalizing regulations or approving state plans.

"We're developing our timeline" based on public comment and input, he said. The goal, he said is a regulatory framework and a guidance framework by the end of the year.

Edwards followed up, noting that means, by definition, it will be the next administration doing most of the plan-approving. 

"I think that's right," King said. "But our hope is that one of the goals in this conversation is that folks have to start now thinking about what are those accountability indicators, what are those interventions. That's not a conversation that should wait until after [our] regulatory process is done."

Those answers track closely with what King said at his Senate confirmation hearing last month. The full Senate is expected to vote on King's nomination Monday—he's likely to be confirmed. 

Performance Tests

King said there's a lot of potential in moving beyond "fill in the bubble" tests and toward performance tasks, something New Hampshire has already started doing. In fact, he spoke about performance tests Friday morning with Linda Darling Hammond, an education researcher at Stanford University and the founder of the Learning Policy Institute.

But, King encouraged states and districts to think carefully about how these new tests will align with their curriculum goals and instructional approach.

"People say, 'We want to do what New Hampshire has done because they are doing this work on performance-based assessment,' but they have been at that for years, working closely with teachers and principals to put that work together," King said. (Andrew wrote about Granite State's work on performance tasks here.) 

Oh, and King pronounces the name of the new law as "ESS-UH," not  "EE-SUH," or "E.S.S.A." or "Every Student." So that seems like the final word on that.

BONUS: King was on CBS's "Late Night with Stephen Colbert" last week, talking about the non-profit Donors Choose, which helps pay for teacher-developed projects in classrooms across the country

So what was that like, Edwards asked?

"The most important thing for my 12-year-old was that [actress] Anna Kendrick was also on," King said. "My daughter was very precise. I needed to meet Anna Kendrick and tell her how much my daughter appreciated her, admired her, wants to be like her. And so I waited to meet Anna Kendrick. Mission accomplished."

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