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ESSA Plans for Disadvantaged Students Under Microscope in New Analysis

An education advocacy group has rated five states' plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act—and while Louisiana and New Mexico end up look looking pretty good, Colorado and Illinois come out less rosy.

The Alliance for Excellent Education, which focuses on college-and-career readiness and students from low-income backgrounds among others, has released "equity dashboards" for those four states, as well as the District of Columbia. These dashboards examine states' long-term goals for academics and graduation rates, supports and interventions for struggling schools, and accountability systems to see how well they represent the interests of disadvantaged learners and maintain high standards for rating schools.

A state gets a green light if the group is pleased with the measure, a yellow light if the state's approach is a mixed bag, and a red light if the group has significant concerns. Overall, states are rated in 13 categories. Need an example? Here's the green-yellow-red analysis of Illinois' plan:


Louisiana only gets two "yellow" ratings, for how it plans to define "consistently underperforming" subgroups of students, and for how it would measure English-language proficiency. New Mexico gets a yellow for its school quality indicator, and a red for not explicitly including the performance of student subgroups in its proposed school rating system. On the other end of the spectrum, Colorado gets marked down for how it handles academic proficiency and graduation rates. 

In an interview, Lindsay Dworkin, the director for policy development at the alliance, said the group "want goals high for all students, and aggressive goals for achievement gaps" in those ESSA plans. "We tried to pick policies—equity indicators—that were objective, measuring how states were doing for all students," Dworkin said, adding that the group also was looking for indicators that were simple and easy to understand. 

A couple of highlights: Phillip Lovell, the group's vice president for policy development, said it was mostly pleased with how the five states had handled the school quality indicator, because they were generally not outweighing the academic factors in accountability. 

But he criticized Colorado's plan for not laying out tangible consequences for schools in which at least 95 percent of students do not participate on mandatory state exams. That should be in all state plans, Lovell said, even in states (like Colorado) that have a law allowing parents to opt their children out of those tests. 

"There are many things about ESSA that are vague. This is not," Lovell said.

Want more details about the 17 ESSA plans that have been submitted so far? Click here to see what states want to do under ESSA on a range of key issues. And go here to see information about school improvement plans

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