every student

Here are 5 things to know about the ESSA plan New York is sending to Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia at Thomas A. Edison Career and Technical Education High School

Updated: New York’s top education policymakers approved a major plan Monday that could reshape the way the state evaluates schools, intervenes in those that are struggling, and several other key education policies.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires each state to craft a plan and submit it to the U.S. Education Department, which 16 states and the District of Columbia did earlier this year. New York’s Board of Regents voted on Monday to accept its plan, meaning it will now head to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ agency for final approval.

The state’s ESSA plan is hundreds of pages long and packed with technical jargon and formulas. But taken as a whole, it amounts to a roadmap for how the current Regents intend to steer state education policy in a new direction.

Here’s what you need to know about it:

1.) The plan stems from a sweeping new federal law

In 2015, President Barack Obama signed ESSA into law, replacing the controversial No Child Left Behind Act. ESSA, which is the country’s primary federal education law, sought to remedy problems that had plagued NCLB and made it unpopular with lawmakers from both parties and many educators.

NCLB was widely criticized for setting unrealistic expectations: By 2014, every state was expected to get 100 percent of students to pass its annual exams. If schools failed to make enough progress towards that goal, they could face a series of consequences including state takeover, conversion into a charter school or closure.

ESSA places more power in the hands of the states to identify and intervene in struggling schools. Yet, the law also kept important elements of NCLB intact. For instance, states are still required to administer English and math tests in grades three to eight. However, New York is planning to apply for a waiver that will allow it to experiment with new types of assessments, according to draft plans.

The state released a draft plan in May and a revised version in July, which officials sent to the governor. Monday’s approval is the last step before it reaches the U.S. Education Department.

2.) The plan centers on evaluating and improving schools

Under the previous law, schools were rated primarily based on students’ test scores and graduation rates, and the lowest-performing schools were subject to harsh penalties. ESSA gave New York a chance to rethink that approach.

Now, when officials rate schools they will look beyond academic outcomes (read: test scores) to also consider other measures of students’ success or struggles, such as how often they’re suspended or miss class or how prepared they are for life after high school. The plan also alters the formula for calculating the bottom 5 percent of schools.

The plan also changes what happens after a school is labeled as low performing. Rather than replacing their staffers or closing them, the state will first offer struggling schools more support — though it is unclear what exactly that support, which the plan calls “evidence-based interventions,” will look like. However, schools that receive low ratings for three years can still face state takeover under this plan.

Finally, the plan lays the groundwork for a new way to share its school ratings with the public. An online tool that the state calls a “dashboard” will display information not just about how well a given school is performing, but also about the context it’s operating in: For example, how much funding does it get and how diverse is its student body?  While that context won’t change how schools are rated, it’s meant to provide a fuller picture to the public and prod districts to fund schools equitably and reduce segregation.

3.) The plan is a roadmap of New York’s new education approach

The plan is more than just a technical document — it’s also a manifesto spelling out a philosophy of school change that contrasts sharply with New York’s past approach. When Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa revealed the state’s original draft ESSA plan, she called it a “vision plan.”

Rosa was elected to lead the Board of Regents just as they — along with state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo — were beginning to amend a slate of controversial policies, including teacher evaluations, learning standards, and graduation requirements. For instance, they put a freeze on the use of certain test scores to rate teachers and made it easier for students with disabilities to graduate high school.

Beyond unwinding the previous chancellor’s policies, ESSA has given Rosa and the current Regents a chance to articulate their alternative vision. At the core of their philosophy is making sure that all schools have the resources they need to succeed.

Ian Rosenblum, executive director of EdTrust-NY, said the plan begins to translate that vision into policy and describe how it will set that policy in motion.

“That is not just symbolic,” he said.

4.) There’s disagreement about how much the plan changes and what it will mean for schools

Is this shift mainly rhetorical or will it make a major difference in classrooms across the state? Advocates have different answers to that question.

Some, like Lisa Rudley, a founding member of New York State Allies for Public Education, which helped lead a movement to boycott state tests, think that the state’s ESSA plan does not mark a big enough departure from the previous law.

“I see the ESSA plan as an extension of No Child Left Behind,” Rudley said. “I do think they missed a huge opportunity.”

Others think the plan reflects an important policy shift that will trickle down to the classroom. For instance, lessening the weight of test scores in judging schools and teachers reduces the pressure on educators to only cover material that will appear on the exams, said Carl Korn, spokesman for the state teachers union.

“I don’t know that you can discount the more holistic, 30,000 foot view of [evaluating] what’s happening in a school, as opposed to [using] simply ELA and math scores,” Korn said.

The education consulting firm Bellwether Education Partners gave New York’s plan high marks for the amount of support it plans to give schools that are struggling, which would include a needs assessment and a team of on-site reviewers.

5.) Now the plan must make it past Betsy DeVos

The plan is now headed to the United States Department of Education by the end of September. The state will receive feedback on the plan and officials expect it will be officially approved in early 2018.

For states that have already submitted plans, USDE has provided some pushback but has generally approved them.


Double whammy: Indiana schools could see two A-F grades in 2018

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students work on an assignment at Decatur Central High School. (File Photo)

Indiana schools could get two A-F grades in 2018 — one official grade based on state requirements, and a separate calculation based on the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

The proposal comes as changes in graduation rate calculations and dual credit teacher training have complicated the state’s plan to comply with the new law, which went into effect this school year.

There was an opportunity to make adjustments when the plan was introduced in June, but Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indiana education officials endorsed it with few major changes. It’s unclear why separate state and federal grades weren’t considered earlier.

The proposal highlights the pressure Indiana and other states face to quickly adjust to ESSA and changing expectations from Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education. A number of regulations were either thrown out when she came into office or could not be finished in time by the Obama Administration. Indiana, too, saw a dramatic election that brought in a new schools chief, governor and other key education policymakers.

The idea to create dual standards was revealed tonight when Ken Folks, chief of governmental affairs for the Indiana Department of Education, spoke with educators and community members at Noblesville East Middle School.

Adam Baker, state department of education spokesman, said officials need more time to figure out how to meet the federal rules for graduation rate and new regional rules regarding dual credit teaching. Both factor heavily into high school A-F grades, and the changes could result in lower grades for many schools.

“We are trying to support schools and trying to do what’s best to make this transition a lot smoother,” Baker said.

Read: Educators to state officials: ‘Indiana needs just one diploma’

Here’s how it might look:

About a year from now, after students take the spring 2018 ISTEP test, schools will get a letter grade from the state that won’t encompass any of the changes proposed in Indiana’s ESSA plan.

The state grade would determine where a school falls on the timeline for state intervention — public schools, for example, can only have four consecutive years of F grades before takeover or other serious improvement plans are on the table.

But nothing about the ESSA rules will change or pause. Unlike in 2016, federal officials have no plans to give states a reprieve from accountability sanctions. Every school will still receive a percentage calculation based on federal guidelines using the same 100-point scale that state letter grades are based on, where 90 percent is an A, 80 is percent a B, and so on.

The federal calculation would count under rules for identifying struggling schools and those that govern Title I funding. For example, any high school where the four-year federal graduation rate is lower than 67 percent would be considered under “comprehensive support” from the state.

Conversations around the specifics of the the state/federal split are still happening, Baker said, and the dual system would only be for 2018.

Grades based on 2017 ISTEP tests that are set to come out next month, which schools have already seen, are not part of this change.

This idea was floated a month ago at a state board of education work session that was held to build consensus around the state’s ESSA plan. Board members asked state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick and her staff why there couldn’t just be two grades next year.

At the time, Lee Ann Kwiatkowski, McCormick’s chief of staff, told board members that in the past, Indiana did operate two accountability systems, one for state and one for federal.

“The reason Indiana moved from two accountability systems to one was because it was confusing and caused chaos,” she said. “We would have schools that could look very different in the two systems.”

But as the ESSA plan’s due date rapidly approached and diploma and dual credit situations remained in limbo, Baker said the department changed its mind. Keeping the state’s grading system consistent, even if it meant a separate federal piece, ended up making more sense than a series of state grades with big fluctuations.

“The extra time wasn’t like, ‘OK, let’s give ourselves a fifth quarter,” Baker said. “It was more or less like, this is coming down the pipeline — what can we do? Our hope is that things will change.”

See all of Chalkbeat Indiana’s ESSA coverage here.

the race is on

Stand for Children chooses not to endorse in northeast Denver school board race

DENVER, CO - March 16: A Denver Public Schools emblem and sign on the Evie Garrett Dennis Campus that houses five separate schools with 1,600 students in Pre-K through 12th grade in Northeast Denver, Colorado on March 16, 2016. (Photo by Katie Wood/The Denver Post)

Stand for Children Colorado on Tuesday announced its candidate endorsements for this fall’s Denver school board races — and one notable non-endorsement.

The pro-education reform group chose not to endorse a candidate in the three-person race in District 4, which encompasses a diverse mix of northeast Denver neighborhoods. The group said both incumbent Rachele Espiritu and challenger Jennifer Bacon had surpassed the group’s “threshold for endorsement,” and that “Denver’s kids would be well served by either candidate.”  

Recent Manual High School graduate Tay Anderson is also vying for the seat.

With four of seven seats in play, this fall’s election could swing the balance of a school board that unanimously backs the school district’s education reform efforts.

Stand is a significant player in Denver school board elections. It donates money to candidates and helps marshal resources on the ground, including door-to-door canvassing.

Kate Dando Doran, a spokeswoman for Stand for Children Colorado, said in an email the group will not contribute financially to candidates in District 4. She said that families Stand works with in southwest Denver are supporting former teacher Angela Cobián’s campaign in that part of the city, and that Stand would focus its energy and resources there, too.  

Cobián has the support of incumbent Rosemary Rodriguez, who is not running again. Stand endorsed Cobián in her race against parent Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, who has teachers union backing.

Stand for Children’s other endorsements do not come as a surprise: incumbent Barbara O’Brien in the citywide at-large race that includes former Denver teacher Julie Bañuelos and parent Robert Speth; and incumbent Mike Johnson for District 3 in central-east Denver, who is facing English language development teacher Carrie A. Olson.

To be considered for Stand’s endorsement, candidates agree to answer a candidate questionnaire and to be interviewed by a committee of parents. Doran said O’Brien, Cobián, Johnson, Bacon and Espiritu went through the group’s process.

That Stand could not settle on an endorsement in District 4 adds to the drama in the three-person race. Opponents of the district’s reforms haven’t united on a pick, either. The Denver teachers union endorsed Bacon, a community organizer and former teacher. The advocacy group Our Denver, Our Schools and a progressive caucus of the teachers union are backing Anderson.