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Six New Transparency Requirements in the Every Student Succeeds Act

If you haven't read through all 1,000-plus pages of the brand new Every Student Succeeds Act, you may have missed a key theme: The new law includes a host of new transparency requirements that will give the feds, states, districts, educators, advocates and (yes) education reporters a much clearer picture of how different populations of kids are doing and what kind of access they have to resources, including money.

So what exactly will districts and states need to report on under ESSA that they didn't have to report on under No Child Left Behind, the previous version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act?

Here's a list, courtesy of congressional staff:

1. State accountability systems: Under NCLB waivers, it was not easy to make heads or tails of state accountability systems—and believe me, we tried here at Politics K-12. Under ESSA, state report cards will now have to explain a lot about their accountability systems, including their overall student achievement goal, how many kids a school must have from a particular subgroup for those students to be included for accountability purposes (otherwise known as an "n" size), the list of indicators used to measure a schools' performance and how much weight each indicator has, how schools are singled out for extra support, and what schools need to do to move on from improvement status.

2. Foster kids, homeless kids, and military connected kids: For the first time, states will have to break out the student achievement data and graduation rates of these students, just like they do for other "subgroups" like racial minorities, kids from low-income families, and students in special education.

3. Long-term English-language learners: States and districts will have to report the number and percentage of students who have been identified as English-language learners, and attended school in the district for five years or more without being reclassified as proficient in English. This shines a spotlight on a population of students who have flown under the radar for years: long-term English-language learners.

4. Per-pupil expenditures: States will have to enumerate just how much they are spending per kid in each district and each school, which could help highlight disparities.

5. Post-secondary enrollment: For the first time, states will be required to report these rates, if available, on their report cards.

6. Crosstabulation: States will have to report data—including test scores and participation rates, performance on school quality indicators, and graduation rates—and in a manner that can be "crosstabulated." That means that a researcher, advocate, journalist, or anyone else could see say, whether a state is improving graduation outcomes for Hispanic English-language learners who are also in special education. Under NCLB, it would have been possible to see how ELLs were doing, how students in special education were doing, and how Hispanic students were doing, but much tougher to isolate the kids who were in all three groups. This wonky-sounding requirement was a big priority for the civil rights community.

Where did all this transparency come from? ESSA largely puts states in the driver's seat when it comes to how to rate schools and intervene in schools that aren't up to snuff. The transparency requirements, however, can help advocates and policymakers ensure that states, schools, and districts are still making progress with historically overlooked groups of students. They were part of the law's bipartisan bargain, and were important to Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., one of the Democratic architects of ESSA, among others. 

"As we worked to pass the Every Student Succeeds Act, my top priority was ensuring that all kids have access to a quality education, regardless of where they live, how they learn, or how much money their parents make," Murray said in a statement. "I'm proud that this law takes important steps to improve transparency so parents, schools, and advocates have as much information as possible about how students are doing in school."

On the flip side, some school district officials say that while transparency is important, new reporting requirements can put further strain on scarce time and resources.

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