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State Education Chiefs Weigh in on Proposed ESSA Regulations

This post was written by Alyson Klein and Andrew Ujifusa and originally posted on the Politics K-12 blog

Proposed accountability regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act have been out for about two weeks. So what do the folks who will actually have to spearhead these new plans think?

We asked a bunch of state chiefs for their take. Many said they were still digesting the proposal, but a few were willing to give us some early thoughts.

Mitchell D. Chester, Massachusetts:

Overall, Chester found a lot to like in the regulations. He gave the U.S. Department of Education a thumbs-up, for instance, for its requirement that struggling schools improve on at least one academic measure—like reading and math scores, or graduation rates—and not just on the indicator of school quality and student success (something like school climate) before they are allowed to move on from "targeted" or "comprehensive" improvement.

"I would be disappointed," he said, "if you could move out of those categories while still failing to teach young people to read and do math well."

And he thought the department did a good job of handling how states should cope with testing opt-outs. ESSA kept in place the requirement under the previous law that 95 percent of students take tests, but left it up to states to figure out how to cope with schools that don't meet the participation threshold. The draft regulations call for states to take serious action—a slap on the wrist isn't enough.

Chester praised that approach. "This is an area where Congress tried to split the baby," he said. "The opt-out piece has to have consequences."

He also doesn't have a problem with a requirement that states come up with a summative rating for their schools. That's something the Bay State already does, through a system that rates both schools and districts. (We wrote about its system here.)

Massachusetts is mulling some changes to make its system fit with ESSA, Chester said. For instance, the state will need to pick its indicator of student success or school quality. It's early going, but Chester said he's intrigued by the idea of measuring school climate, and/or access to rigorous coursework, both of which he thinks have the potential to move the needle on achievement.

Stephen Pruitt, Kentucky:

Pruitt on the other hand, has a few bones to pick with the proposal. (We talked to him for this story.)  For one thing, he's not happy that states would have to label schools in need of "comprehensive support" at the beginning of 2017-18, using data from the 2016-17 school year,  before new ESSA systems are truly up and running. (He sent this letter to the Education Department expressing his displeasure before the regulations were released.)

The timeline "creates a problem, frankly, for the integrity of the system," Pruitt said. "I want our system to get a fresh start so that people can have some trust in the system."

Also, Pruitt is not a fan of the requirement that states give each school a summative rating. He thinks that is way too limiting and could cause schools to miss some key nuances that a dashboard, or other broader rating system would capture. (To be clear, in addition to the summative rating, states need to provide any information that they're putting into it, so parents would get a chance to see dashboards, too.)

"I think it sort of masks things that do create a better educational environment for kids," Pruitt said. "I think it's better for a parent to be able to look at a set of indicators" and be able to see that a school with, say, an achievement gap has recently expanded its course offerings.

"You wouldn't get that [nuance] if you just scored 78," he told us. 

June Atkinson, North Carolina:

Like Chester, Atkinson told us says the way the draft regulations handle the school-quality and student-success indicators when it comes to turnarounds and interventions strike the right balance.

"I think that's in the right direction," Atkinson said. And she also likes how the regulations allow states to define what a "consistently underperforming" group of student means. More from Atkinson in this story


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