U.S. DOE releases draft ESSA Rules
The U.S. DOE has released draft rules regarding accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that allow states to choose indicators of success that go beyond test scores and graduation rates, while underscoring that academic progress is still an essential part of any school profile.
According to the U.S. DOE, the proposed rules are designed to encourage states to engage a broad group of stakeholders to give input on how each state will implement the new law, under what is known as the State Plan. Unlike the No Child Left Behind law, which ESSA replaces, the federal government is ceding much discretion to the states, which, in turn, can give more power to local school boards and districts when it comes to school improvement.
The State Plan has to be developed by the Department of Education in consultation with the stakeholder group, which will include legislators, representatives from local school units, charter schools, teachers, instructional support staff, principals, administrators and parents. MSMA will send out notice to members when the DOE announces its stakeholder process and timeline.
Under the proposed ESSA regulations, the state will assign ratings to each school, and each school has to produce an annual report card for the public, as they do today under the waiver language of NCLB. Academic progress and graduation rates will be part of that report, but so can other more nuanced descriptions of school quality and student success.
The rules, notice of which was given May 31 in the Federal Register, will be open to public comment for 60 days, with the comment period ending Aug. 1.
Here are the major provisions as described in a U.S. DOE overview:
ESSA requires that all students be held to college- and career-ready standards. The proposed regulations reinforce the law’s flexibility for states to incorporate new measures of school quality and student success into their accountability systems while upholding the core expectation that states, districts, and schools work to improve academic outcomes for all students, including individual subgroups of students.
And while states and districts will continue to be required to take action to turn around struggling schools, and to intervene in schools where groups of students are consistently underperforming, they have new flexibility, working closely with stakeholders, to choose interventions that are tailored to local needs.
Statewide Accountability Systems
- The proposed regulations affirm that states set their own ambitious goals, and measurements of interim progress, for academic outcomes, while also ensuring that states take into account the improvement necessary among subgroups of students to make significant progress in closing gaps in statewide proficiency and graduation rates.
- The proposed regulations reinforce the statutory requirement that states have robust, multi-measure statewide accountability systems, while giving them the flexibility to choose new statewide indicators that create a more holistic view of student success.
- The proposed regulations include indicators of academic achievement, graduation rates (for high schools) or academic progress (for elementary and middle schools), and progress towards English language proficiency.
- States would also have the opportunity to select new indicators of school quality or student success, while ensuring that those indicators:
- Measure the performance of all students in all public schools (including public charter schools);
- Allow for comparisons between subgroups of students;
- Demonstrate variation across schools in the state; and
- Are likely to increase graduation rates or academic achievement.
- To promote transparency in a format that is easily understandable by parents, the proposed regulations require states to assign a comprehensive, summative rating for each school to provide a clear picture of its overall standing. However, to ensure a nuanced picture of school success, states would also report a school’s performance on each indicator, in addition to the school’s summative result.
- To give states room to develop systems tailored to their individual needs, the proposed regulations do not prescribe or suggest specific percentages for any of the indicators, or a range for weighting; rather, they include the following provisions to ensure that states are emphasizing the academic indicators that the law requires be afforded “substantial” weight individually and “much greater” weight in the aggregate by stating that:
- a school identified for comprehensive support cannot be removed from identification on the basis of an indicator of school quality or student success unless it is also making significant progress for all students on an academic one;
- a school identified for targeted support because of a struggling subgroup cannot be removed from targeted support status on the basis of an indicator of school quality or student success unless that subgroup is making significant progress on at least one academic indicator; and
- a school achieving the lowest level of performance on any academic indicator must receive a different summative rating than a school performing at the highest level on all of the indicators.
- Consistent with the statute’s focus on measures beyond graduation rates and test scores, the proposed regulations clarify that states choose their own indicators of school quality or student success. Consistent with the law’s focus on equity, the proposal requires that states are able to compare subgroups of students on each measure. To maintain the focus on student learning, they also propose that the measures included within the indicators of Academic Progress and School Quality or Student Success be supported by research indicating that performance or progress on such measures are likely to increase student academic achievement or, at the high school level, graduation rates.
- Recognizing the growing numbers and diversity of the English learner population, the proposed regulations ensure that states consider unique student characteristics, including students’ initial English language proficiency level, in setting goals, measurements of interim progress, and determining performance on the indicator of progress in achieving English language proficiency.
- In order to provide a fair and accurate picture of school success, and help parents, teachers, school leaders, and state officials understand where students are struggling and how to support them, the law requires that all students participate in statewide assessments. States must factor into their accountability systems whether all schools have assessed at least 95% of all their students and 95% of each subgroup of students. The proposed regulations do not prescribe how those rates must be factored into accountability systems, but they do require states to take robust action for schools that do not meet the 95% participation requirement. States may choose among options or propose their own equally rigorous strategy for addressing the low participation rate. In addition, schools missing participation rates would need to develop a plan, approved by the district, to improve participation rates in the future.
- To ensure the statewide accountability system meaningfully includes all students, especially historically underserved students, the proposed regulations:
- ensure states consider each student subgroup separately. A combined subgroup of students – or “super subgroup” – cannot replace an individual subgroup.
- do not specify what a State’s n-size must be for accountability purposes, but require that any State with an n-size larger than 30 students submit a justification for its n-size in its State Plan, including information about the number and percentage of schools that would not be held accountable for the results of students in each particular subgroup if a state adopted a higher n-size.
- To ensure states hold all public schools accountable, the proposed regulations ensure that states include all public charter schools in their accountability systems.
- To provide states with flexibility to develop thoughtful accountability systems, the proposed regulations allow states to update their accountability systems as they are able to include new measures within their indicators.
Supporting Low-performing Schools
Under the proposed regulations, states must identify certain schools at least once every three years for comprehensive support and improvement, including: the bottom 5% of Title I schools in the state; high schools with graduation rates below 67% for all students based on the four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate; and Title I schools with chronically low-performing subgroups that have not improved after receiving additional targeted support.
- States must also identify schools for targeted support and improvement, including:
- schools with a low-performing subgroup performing similarly to all students in the bottom 5% of Title I schools, identified each time the State identifies its schools for comprehensive support (these schools must be provided additional targeted support)
- Title I schools with a consistently underperforming subgroup, as defined by the State, annually.
- The proposed regulations provide suggested definitions of “consistently underperforming,” but allow states the flexibility to propose their own definitions as long as they identify schools with subgroups that, based on the state’s indicators, underperform over two or more years.
- The proposed regulations recognize the critical role of stakeholders, including parents, educators, principals, and other school leaders, in supporting the development and implementation of school improvement activities by requiring that each district notify parents of students at schools identified for support and improvement of how to be involved in the school improvement process, so they can participate in developing a plan that fits its unique needs. These schools may have up to a year in the school year they are identified to conduct these planning and engagement activities.
- In place of prescriptive interventions required under No Child Left Behind, the proposed regulations allow schools, districts, and states to select evidence-based strategies tailored to local needs. They also would ensure that states set meaningful exit criteria so that schools implement additional actions where initial interventions do not work to improve student outcomes.
- In schools identified for comprehensive support or for additional targeted support, the proposed regulations would require that their improvement plans review resource inequities, including per-pupil expenditures and disproportionate access to ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers identified by the State and district, drawing on data already collected and reported under ESSA.
- Under the proposed regulations, states must continue to direct funds set aside for school improvement to schools most in need of support. In order to ensure sufficient funds to provide meaningful support, the proposed regulations require that a district that receives funds for school improvement receives a minimum of $500,000 for each comprehensive support school it serves and $50,000 for each targeted support school it serves, unless the state determines that a smaller amount is sufficient. Additionally, the proposed regulations reinforce the state’s key role in providing technical assistance, monitoring, and other support, including ongoing efforts to evaluate the use of these funds for evidence-based interventions to improve student outcomes.
- In order to provide time for an orderly transition to new ESSA accountability systems and to ensure there is not a gap in supports for students, the proposed regulations require that all states identify schools for comprehensive and additional targeted support for the 2017-2018 school year, with annual identification of schools with consistently underperforming subgroups for targeted support beginning in the 2018-2019 school year.
One of the core goals of ESSA is to enable parents and other stakeholders to engage meaningfully in their education systems, which is only possible when they have access to clear, robust, and ongoing information about how their students and schools are doing. To accomplish this goal, the proposed regulations seek to ensure that states and districts work with stakeholders to develop report cards that include timely and essential information to inform educational improvement for all kids, including by:
- requiring states and districts to consult with parents in designing the report cards, and make them publicly available no later than December 31st of each year. These report cards serve to inform parents and community members about how students and schools are doing in a timely way;
- ensuring that report cards include a full set of accountability information (including student assessment outcomes and graduation rates) in an easily accessible manner, so that stakeholders can fully understand school performance and better participate in developing solutions that target the specific needs of schools and students;
- clarifying requirements for new provisions, including how students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who earn alternate diplomas may be included in graduation rate calculations;
- ensuring more transparency for parents, educators and community members around resource equity measures, such as access to preschool, access to rigorous coursework, and school discipline;
- clarifying that state and local report cards must include specific information about district-and school-level per-pupil expenditures calculated based on uniform, state-developed procedures, to ensure parents and educators have transparency into school funding; and
- improving the quality of postsecondary enrollment data included on report cards, so that stakeholders have greater insight into student preparation for programs of postsecondary education.
Consolidated State Plans
The proposed regulations give states the flexibility, and responsibility, to think holistically about how to improve educational outcomes for all of their students while helping to ensure access to a high-quality and well-rounded education. The proposed regulations are designed to encourage each state to engage meaningfully with a wide array of stakeholders as it thinks comprehensively about implementation of ESSA and promotes better coordination across state-based ESEA formula grant programs to improve student outcomes and close achievement gaps. The consolidated state plan requirements also are intended to eliminate duplication and streamline requirements across programs, reducing burden for states in meeting federal requirements.
- The proposed regulations would require broad, robust, transparent engagement with a diverse, representative group of stakeholders at multiple points during the design, development, and implementation of a consolidated State Plan. Stakeholders must include superintendents, educators, parents, community leaders, civil rights organizations, representatives of Indian tribes, and others.
- The proposed regulations reinforce the ESSA’s strong emphasis on equitable access to resources for all students, particularly those who are traditionally underrepresented (including foster children, homeless students, and English learners). Through the consolidated plans, states must put forward plans to ensure that states meet the needs of all learners, including providing access to a well-rounded education that incorporates rigorous coursework such as STEM, history, foreign languages, music, and computer science.