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Civil Rights Coalition Says Proposed ESSA Accountability Rules a Mixed Bag

A coalition of civil rights organizations says  that while some of the proposed accountability regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act are a positive step, they might need additional teeth, while some of the draft rules simply aren't up to snuff.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, along with 30 other groups including the Education Trust, the National Council of La Raza, and the National Urban League, say in remarks released Wednesday that the proposals governing things like the emphasis on academic performance in judging schools, stakeholder engagement, and test participation are promising, although the groups might submit comments to "further strengthen" them.

But the draft rules governing what constitutes a "consistently underperforming" group of students, especially when it comes to how they are progressing towards states' academic goals, are too loose, the coalition says. (We covered this concern, as expressed by the Education Trust's Daria Hall, last month.) Among other issues, the groups also say the rules should include a definitive time period for English-language acquisition of five years and include more directions for how states improve environments for student learning that focus on reducing bullying and harassment. 

The coalition's reaction is the first reaction from the broader civil rights community to the proposed ESSA accountability rules, which were released to the public May 26. The proposal is open for public comment until Aug. 1, and it's possible the regulations could be finalized around November. The coalition says it is preparing more detailed comments on the draft, and individual member organizations will have their own separate input. 

Here are some areas where the 31 civil rights groups say the proposed rules are promising, but might need bolstering:

  • "Reinforcing that individual groups of students must each count in accountability systems and that 'super subgroups' are not allowed."
  • "Ensuring that school ratings are summative and also ensuring schools, parents, and communities have access to data regarding multiple school quality measures to support their efforts to strengthen and improve schools." 
  • "Reinforcing the inclusion of all students in the state's assessment system through the 95 percent participation-rate requirement." 

And here are areas where the coalition says the draft regulations simply fall short:

  • "Although setting an upper limit for 'N-size' (the minimum number of students needed to include a subgroup of students) is critically important to unmasking subgroup performance, a maximum 'N-size' of 30, as allowed in the draft regulation, is far too high." (More about N-size from the Alyson half of Politics K-12.)
  • "A state's 'regular high school diploma' should only be one that is fully aligned with state standards, and a state's 'alternate diploma' should only be one that is standards-based and meets all other criteria as required by the statute. Basing any diploma wholly or in part on meeting Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals, regardless of whether a student's IEP goals are standards-based, is contrary to the purpose of an IEP, undermines the definition of both a 'regular high school diploma' and the 'alternate diploma,' and equals a 'lesser credential,' as stated in the statute." 

Other groups have also weighed in on the proposal.

The Council of Chief State School Officers has, for the most part, praised the draft accountability regulations for ESSA, which is largely designed to give more control over issues like academic goals and school turnaround to states.

And in a detailed response to the proposal, AASA, the School Superintendents Association, said in summary, "Upon initial review of the regulations, they are not as bad as they could have been. ... That said, 'not as bad as they could have been' does not necessarily make them good." (That's almost word-for-word what Noelle Ellerson of AASA told me last month.) 

Click here for the full statement from the civil rights coalition.


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