Every Student Succeeds Act ESSA on a desk.


This Newsbrief gives our sense of important and timely federal educational news within the following process and 
protest context
To advance educational excellence and equity, we must prioritize the needs of our most vulnerable students and communities. To accomplish this goal, we need clear processes for the development of policy, and we need to take into account opposition to current and proposed policies and practices — protest — as a healthy part of those processes.  

Federal Update

What States’ ESSA Non-Compliance Means for Underserved Student Groups

October 26, 2018

The Issue

The vast majority of states do not appear to be fully complying with requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to hold schools and school districts responsible for the academic performance of historically underserved student groups, including racial minorities, students with disabilities, and English learners.

There are two basic legal requirements under ESSA:

  1. The ratings that schools receive have to take into account the performance of each and every of the vulnerable student groups specified in the law.
  2. Schools have to be identified as needing improvement if the performance of any of these student groups is below a certain level for a certain amount of time.

According to a recent study by the Alliance for Excellent Education, only 17 states are in full compliance with the first requirement and only 6 states are in full compliance with the second requirement. There is disagreement among members of the U.S. Senate and the United States Department of Education (US ED) about whether the states are non-compliant with ESSA and whether anything should be done. It does not appear that US ED is likely at this time to take any action to bring states into greater compliance with these legal requirements.

Here are examples from three states. Check out this resource to do this analysis for your own state.

California

California is at risk for non-compliance with the ESSA requirement that the performance of each and every required student group be specifically factored into the ratings that schools receive. California uses a color-coded dashboard system to assign school ratings, with blue being the best rating, red being the worst, and yellow in the middle. Schools are rated by color in each of five categories and receive two color-based ratings within each category: one for performance in the current year and one for improvement from the prior year. Because schools in California do not receive an overall rating, it is not clear how the performance of any one student group factors into a school’s color ratings.

California is non-compliant with requirements about identifying schools for improvement based on the performance of every student group specified by the law. California identifies schools for improvement based on the overall number of red and/or orange ratings that a school receives. For this reason, it does not appear that California is identifying schools for improvement based on the performance of each of the student groups specified in the law.

New Jersey

New Jersey appears to be compliant with the ESSA requirement that the performance of each and every required student group be specifically factored into the ratings that schools receive. When New Jersey calculates the annual percentile ranking of its schools, it factors in the academic performance of specific student groups as an independent and substantial portion of each school’s rating. To its credit, the performance of student groups makes up 50 percent of a school’s rating.

New Jersey is at risk of noncompliance with ESSA’s requirements about identifying schools for improvement based on the performance of each student group specified by the law. While New Jersey meets some of ESSA’s requirements for identifying schools in need of improvement, in order for the performance of a specific student group to trigger a school as being found in need of improvement, that student group has to have low performance across all indicators in the state’s accountability system, not just one.

Illinois

Illinois appears to be compliant with the ESSA requirement that the performance of each and every required student group be specifically factored into the ratings that schools receive. If a school in Illinois has even one underperforming student group, that school cannot receive either of the top two ratings in the state’s accountability system.

Illinois is at risk of noncompliance with ESSA’s requirements about identifying schools for improvement based on the performance of every student group specified by the law. In Illinois, the academic performance of a student group can only cause a school to be identified for improvement when that group performs in the bottom 10 percent across all indicators in the state’s accountability plan. If, however, any student group does not meet the 95 percent testing participation requirement for three consecutive years, that can be a reason that a school is identified for improvement.

 

The Process

Every state in the country submitted a consolidated ESSA state plan to US ED to demonstrate how they will comply with the requirements of ESSA. US ED has approved each and every state plan.

Civil rights groups have publicly stated their concerns that US ED has approved state plans that are not in compliance with ESSA’s requirements. Democrats in Congress have raised similar concerns, but their concerns have generally not been shared by Congressional Republicans, who currently control oversight of US ED.

In a recent appearance before a House committee, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos reiterated her belief that all approved state plans are in compliance with federal statutory requirements. It appears for the moment that next steps on these matters will be taken on a state level and will not be decided by federal authorities.

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