ESSA State Plans: Notable Developments

The Issue:

With limited resources, a number of vacant leadership positions throughout the Department, and under significant political pressure, the United States Department of Education (US ED) is reviewing and approving the state plans required by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Recent changes to the review process and the recent approval of the plan submitted by Michigan have come with some controversy.

The Process:

Michigan: US ED approved Michigan’s plan the day after Thanksgiving, following at least five rounds of revisions. Michigan submitted its plan for the April 2017 deadline. Following US ED’s approval, the Education Trust-Midwest released a statement saying the plan’s approval was a missed opportunity to advance equity and that the plan still had a number of significant deficiencies, including the lack of summative ratings, a switch to less rigorous exams in the state’s testing system, and a lack of clarity about how struggling schools will be identified and supported. The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) dismissed the public statement as having misrepresented the feedback MDE received from federal officials and as representing an “outlier” opinion. Meanwhile, the lack of a centralized support structure/accountability system in Detroit has become the source of some conflict, and may push members of the state legislature to implement a summative A-F ratings system for schools and districts.
Other States to Watch
It is unclear how US ED will approach the approval process for the following state plans, each of which pose significant challenges to ESSA’s statutory requirements:

  • West Virginia has decided not to account for the graduation rates of student subgroups in their accountability system. West Virginia also does not assign summative ratings to schools.
  • New York’s request to US ED for a waiver from certain of ESSA’s requirements has drawn criticism from advocates because of the way the state is proposing to assess the academic proficiency of students with disabilities.
  • Florida has not asked US ED for a formal waiver but also does not plan to include the proficiency of English Learners in their accountability system.

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