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How Have ESSA-Related Bills Fared in State Legislatures So Far This Year?

Early this legislative season, the National Conference of State Legislators predicted that, with accountability plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act due by this fall, there would be an uptick in bills around teacher evaluations, school accountability systems, and assessments. 

Any changes made under state waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act would have to be written into law, said Michelle Exstrom, NCSL's education program director. That's so that education board policy books align with state law books. Legislatures also hold states' purse strings, and any new ESSA-driven initiatives would have to be placed in the state's budget by the legislature.  

All 50 states held legislative sessions this year, and 11 of those states already have adjourned. The vast majority of states will adjourn between the end of April to mid-May, so it's a good time to check in on how education has fared so far.  

NCSL's prediction has come to fruition.  According to its  tracker, there's been an uptick in proposed and enacted legislation regarding accountability and assessments. As of this week, 113 ESSA-related bills had been proposed in legislatures nationwide and 20 had been passed. Exstrom said she predicts the amount of legislation to match or potentially exceed last year's amount. 

"Accountability and assessments is a huge issue this year, and that's more than likely being driven by new approaches allowed under ESSA," Exstrom said. 

The bills that have been passed vary from one in Delaware that requires the state board to present any ESSA plan to the entire legislative body before it's turned in to the U.S. Department of Education to a bill in North Carolina that prohibited the department from turning in an ESSA plan until the latest date possible. Some states, such as Wyoming placed their entire ESSA plan in a bill and asked for an up or down vote. 

Other legislatures, such as Maryland's, wrote a bill that limited testing and dictated elements of the state's accountability system. Maryland's Republican Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed the bill but the Democrat-controlled legislature ovverode the veto. 

Several other states have updated assessment systems so that high school students take ACT or SAT tests instead of the state's standardized test.  

Only 12 states and the District of Columbia had turned in their ESSA accountability plan as of earlier this week, as my colleagues Andrew and Alyson over at the Politics K-12 blog have reported. There's another deadline in September to turn in their plans and many states have said they will wait until then to do so.  

Exstrom said that may be because state leaders are waiting for clarity from Congress and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on potential regulations and want to make sure they have full support from political leaders and parents. 

"Some states didn't feel like they needed to rush," Exstrom said. "States are figuring out that this is hard work, and they're getting a lot of input and feedback from stakeholders, and they want to synthesize all that feedback into their plan."


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