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MSPnet Blog: “ESSAy”

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posted December 17, 2015 – by Brian Drayton

The Every Student Succeeds Act is now the Law of the Land, and it is the subject of extensive commentary and analysis by wiser heads than mine. There has been general rejoicing because many of the most destructive or wrong-headed mandates of NCLB have been removed, though some people are having a hard time dancing with so many crossed fingers held behind their backs.

A good place to start, to get a sense for what the law contains, is this blog post by Alyson Klein at EdWeek.

Some positives jump out.  First, music & arts and foreign languages are now considered “core” subjects.  Second, the bill states that all students should have access to high quality pre-school. Third,  the requirement to demonstrate Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is eliminated (mostly), in favor of state-established benchmarks, on which the states need to report at intervals.  In general, mandates and regulation are shifted significantly away from the federal government, and back to the states.  The federal government is prohibited from creating or even (as I read it) encouraging anything like national standards, or nationally-shared standards or assessments.

Even with these improvements, though, the sky is not cloud-free;  and the deeper one goes into the legislation, the longer the list of questions becomes.  I should say right here that the thing is 1,000 pages long, and I have not read every page, much less digested it.  So I may well provide readers with a chance to correct my understanding — and thereby help inform others.
Many of the worst parts of the NCLB/RTTP laws (and predecessors since A Nation At Risk) derive from one of three roots. The first assumption is that there is “an educational system” in the United States, which is (for good and ill) not quite the case, under most meanings of “system.”  The second is the assumption that”standards and accountability” are necessary to a healthy educational system. The third  is the assumption that education will be improved by regarding it as another market, or rather as another area of social life in which the Market, that blind god,  should rule.   I read through this law, and the various commentators about it, with these in mind.   In this post, a first report:

  1. The emphasis on standards and assessments remains.  The states are to design and report on them, while the federal government dictates constraints, including the requirement to disaggregate student results.  States may use the Common Core, but the feds cannot require or encourage CC use.  Testing is continued, pretty much at the same rate as  currently mandated (in reading and math annually in grades 3-8, then once in 9-12 ;  for science once  in grades 3-5, once 6-9, and once in grades 10-12).  The states are to set standards, decide on how to assess them, put in place action plans to respond to the results, and satisfy the Secretary of Education that the system is “challenging,” efficient, and “evidence-based,” a term which occurs frequently throughout the text.   Schools are to be evaluated on the basis of 3 academic categories (state test scores, English proficiency, plus one other indicator) plus one other indicator of the State’s choice — student engagement, career-readiness, school safety, or some other variable that can be justified.  For high school, graduation rate needs to be one of the 4 indicators.  States have to account also for participation rates on state tests.

    As one blogger wrote:

whatever you think this bill does or doesn’t do, one thing is for certain. It WILL hold ALL students to high academic standards. How? Reasons…..
What this really translates into is a system that will force those of us who actually interact with students to somehow prove to people fifteen layers of bureaucracy apart from real schools that we are actually holding children to high standards .  .  . and that we can prove it because, you know, test scores.

However, when the test scores show that Joey at 11 years, 3-months, and 14 days of age is performing at a 10-year, 6-months, and 19 day-level, then, by-God, we’re doing something wrong to Joey! States will thus be forced to show the feds that they have appropriate carrots and sticks in place to prevent this from happening.

There is also some hint of distrust of higher ed (reminiscent of recent news from Texas).  The K-12 standards are to be aligned with entrance standards for state public high ed, but

Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize public institutions of higher education to determine the specific challenging State academic standards required under this para- graph  (Sect 1111b(1)dii (I think)

One bright spot, is that while all these tests and standards are applied for students, there is no mandate that they  be used in any direct way for teacher evaluations.  As Alyson Klein writes

The headline here is that states would no longer have to do teacher evaluation through student outcomes, as they did under waivers. And NCLB’s “highly qualified teacher” requirement would be officially a thing of the past.

Next up:  Choice and the market.

Meanwhile, what have you been hearing about ESSA, and how it might affect your work, your state, your children?

Blog comments have been archived, commenting is no longer available.
This blog post has 4 comments, showing all.

High School Graduation Rate

posted by: Daniel Snope on 12/18/2015 8:36 am

Any program that is based on High School graduation rate such as the Every Student Succeeds Act is bound to be destructive to our public school system. It is the least objective qualifier. School districts can manipulate this number through "credit recovery programs" such as summer school where teachers are told that if a student shows up and tries they get credit. Additionally; some are using computer learning programs for math credit and not monitoring students so that they can simply Google answers and effectively avoid learning even though they get credit. Finally, teachers are being pressured to pass students or show proof that they have had several forms of parent contact and conferences. Even then they are "Bad Teachers" if over a certain percentage of students are failing even if the students have done nothing to try to learn the content.
Many students are graduating high school totally unprepared for college or technical school due to lack of mathematical skills. This is evidenced by the fact that in our local university over half the students fail college algebra which is the biggest stopping block to college and career success. In our local technical school the results are the same.
There is no longer a high school graduation test in Georgia so there is not basic competency requirement. The only tests our students get in math are a state Algebra and a state Geometry End of Course Test and they only count for a certain percentage of the grade so that they can be failed miserably and a student can easily pass the class if there grade is high enough.
If High School Graduation Rate is going to be an indicator of success in this program it needs to be linked to post high school success or at least minimal required competency.

post updated by the author 12/18/2015

MSP funding

posted by: Sue B Feldman on 12/18/2015 12:50 pm

MSP funding was in the bill at one point. It looks like it is not in the bill now. Can you explain the status of MSP funding in ESSA?

Graduation rate

posted by: Louise Wilson on 12/19/2015 7:13 am

My favorite suggestion is to give all the students a diploma on their first day in 9th grade, and tell them to come back the next day if they want to learn something. 100% graduation! As described here, most of our students are receiving a certificate of attendance, but read "teacher man" (McCourt), apparently it was ever thus. The difficulty is the "passing high school" system that is totally internal to the school, with no external review. Particularly in the subjective courses, it's easy to pass along the quiet kid who's no trouble. Especially when you are a bad teacher when kids fail.
If students come in to high school at a 5th grade level, how can the high school teachers be expected to improve them at twice the rate of regular growth, four times the rate at which they have been learning? How many of these students should actually be getting a diploma? Or do we just change what it means?

Another overview comment on ESSA

posted by: Brian Drayton on 1/8/2016 11:35 am

William Mathis, of the NEPC, has posted a crisp comment on ESSA for the Rutland Herald:

His concluding paragraphs are resounding:
"Unfortunately, the new suds look disappointingly like the old suds. But it isnt the similarity of the old and new that is the problem it is the mindless repetition and continuation of an utterly ineffective test-based reform system that must concern us... We must look to our needs as a society and recognize that the great economic bifurcation has resulted in the middle class now being less than one-half of the population...When the share of wealth owned by the top one-tenth of 1 percent equals the bottom 90 percent, we can expect the achievement gap to get larger. We must soberly see that the achievement gap is not a problem fixable by better school improvement plans. Rather, it is a symptom of a far greater danger to our society as a whole."