ESSA Advisory Blog

essaThere has been much hoopla in the media about Governor Edwards’ ESSA Advisory Council and how some feel as though its intention is to cause havoc in the department of education, and it appears in direct conflict with the ESSA forums being conducted by Supt. John White. The fact remains that ESSA not only guarantees, but requires input from all stakeholders, and that includes the governor. In addition, there are other forums seeking input from stakeholders being conducted by teacher organizations, as well. What I want to do here is encourage each and every person who has a stake in Louisiana’s public education system to make an effort to participate in whatever forum is available to them. While these opportunities are guaranteed by law, they are meaningless if we don’t participate. Below, I am summarizing some of the key changes in ESSA. It is imperative that we act on these, or else, we will be doomed to suffer the outcome. Find a forum to participate in at Louisiana Believes and Louisiana Association of Educators. As other forums come available, I will update, and I will also provide meeting dates for the Governor’s Advisory Council on ESSA.

STANDARDS

NCLB: Under NCLB, states were required to develop standards in Reading, Math and Science at all grade-levels. States could develop standards for other content areas, but the same standards had to be applied to all students.

ESSA: States must assure that they will adopt “challenging” standards such as the Common Core State Standards, but at no time can the Secretary of Education enforce the use of a certain set of standards.

SUGGESTED ACTION: We should take into consideration that the use of terms such as “challenging” and “rigorous” have saturated the conversations around academic standards with no clear definition of what that means. No parent, teacher, superintendent, board member or elected officials wants our students to be unchallenged; however, there is a missing variable in this equation that is equally important, and that is appropriateness for age-related cognitive function. It is imperative that ANY set of standards approved for use with Louisiana’s student be reviewed and critiqued by an unbiased team of qualified and credentialed individuals who are familiar with the theories surrounding child-development and learning stages.

ASSESSMENTS

NCLB: Requires that students be tested in Reading and Math, annually in grades 3-8 and once in high school. Requires annual testing in Science for grades 3-8 and 10-12. States can develop their own assessments and must provide reasonable adaptations and accommodations for students with disabilities. States are required to make the assessment available to a minimum of 95% of the student population, and no more than 1% can be administered the alternative assessment. States and districts receiving Title I, Section A funds must administer the NAEP tests for Math and Reading to 4th and 8th graders, each year.

ESSA: The subject and grade-level required testing has not changed from NCLB; however, states may choose whether to assess students with one summative assessment, or multiple interim assessments. Districts may also choose a different assessment with state approval. The participation requirements are the same as NCLB, but a notable difference is the undeniable authority of a parent to choose to opt-out their child from statewide assessments.

SUGGESTED ACTION: Testing is a profit-driven industry that benefits no one but the producers of the test. The quality of the assessment designed under NCLB and Race To The Top provide no meaningful data to the classroom teacher so that adjustments and modifications can be made. The most sensible and cost-effective approach would be to end all assessment above the requirements of ESSA, remove performance on assessments as a requirement for promotion and utilize a qualified and credentialed team to develop an assessment that accurately assesses the standards that were deemed cognitively appropriate at all grade levels. In addition, the assessment should be piloted for two academic years, or more, so that the results can be examined to determine the validity and reliability of the instrument. By design, the assessment should be a continuum across grade levels that provides all of the data necessary to see where a student performed in the past, where they are now, and the ability to predict future outcomes. In the case of participation, if we examine closely the purpose of the 95% participation requirement, and the history of why ESSA, NCLB and all of their predecessors were developed, we learn that it is to ensure that the “at-risk” student populations are being provided access to equal opportunities in education and that no poor performing students are being excluded in an effort to improve school or district ratings. Whether, or not, a single assessment tells us that is another blog, but ESSA guarantees a parent’s authority to determine whether their child will participate. When all of this is taken into consideration, it is logical to assume that if a parent’s decision is documented by delivery of a signed Opt-Out form then the assessment was made available to the student, but the parent refused it. All opted out students should be accounted for, but removed from the accountability formula. Any attempt to include them in a formula will only result in unnecessary tensions between parents who don’t want their children tested and administrators who blame parents for low performance scores. At the same time, any student who isn’t tested, and doesn’t have a documented opt-out, should be included, and the school required to explain why the student wasn’t tested. This needs to be addressed directly by the legislature in order to guarantee that the parents’ right is not violated by erroneous policy established by LDOE, or BESE.

ACCOUNTABILITY

NCLB: Upon enactment, NCLB basically gave states a decade to make 100% of all students proficient in Math and Reading and make adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward that goal. That is a pretty lofty and ambitious goal that I would liken to trying to create an internal combustion engine that is 100% efficient. The data that is gathered from assessments is required to be aggregated by subgroups including race, ethnicity, ESL and economically disadvantaged, then made public in the form of school and district performance scores.

ESSA: The 100% proficiency requirement and AYP is removed by ESSA. States are required to develop performance goals for each subgroup, measure performance on state assessments annually, calculate graduation rates annually and develop a performance reporting system that incorporates non-academic factors and multiple forms of assessment. In addition, states are allowed to determine the weight given to each of the accountability components.

SUGGESTED ACTION: If appropriate actions are taken with the Standards and the Assessments, the Accountability (aka reporting) should be the least difficult thing to do. Since NCLB has been enacted, the data resulting from assessments has clearly indicated that student performance is directly related to variables that exist outside of the four walls of a classroom. These variables should be accounted for, and not by using statistical formulas that utilize hypothetical constants and are too complex for analysis by a layman. Whether for consideration of purchasing a home, or just utilizing some of the educational choices available, a parent should have confidence in a school’s performance report, and that can’t be attained simply by reporting the results of a standardized test.

TEACHER AND LEADER EFFECTIVENESS

NCLB: Required that 100% of all “core” teachers be “highly-effective.” States had to give assurances that all teachers working in Title 1 programs were certified and qualified and could not have a higher rate of “out of area” or unqualified teachers. Scientifically based professional development was required for core teachers. NCLB did not require teacher evaluations, but states receiving an NCLB waiver had to create an evaluation plan, or improve a current plan.

ESSA: The “highly-effective” requirement is eliminated, but states are required to ensure that teachers working in Title 1 programs meet the state certification requirements. All incidences of “highly-qualified” or “unqualified” are replaced with “effective” and “ineffective.” Access to professional development is spread to all school staff, and “scientific based” is replaced with “evidence based.” Like NCLB, teacher evaluations are not required, but states receiving waivers must create an evaluation based “in part” on student achievement and must be based on multiple measures. There are no requirements that evaluations be connected to compensation, promotion or tenure.

SUGGESTED ACTION: There is a reason that physicians aren’t rated by the rate in which they heal sick patients. You must acknowledge that regardless of how knowledgeable, skilled and attentive a doctor is, the ultimate outcome is largely determined by the patient’s willingness to follow through. The same thing can be said for teachers. Doctors are generally rated by their treatment of their patients, quality of the examination, accuracy of diagnosis and methods in which the outcomes are accomplished. Teachers can be evaluated in much the same way. In the Assessment section, it is already stated that the use of multiple assessment instruments is acceptable. Teacher evaluations should be prohibited from incorporating student test scores; regardless of whether it is a state assessment, or a locally designed assessment. Student portfolios that illustrate student performance and what actions were taken to address deficiencies are an excellent way to evaluate a teacher. Classroom observations remain effective for rating a teacher’s interaction with their students and delivery of content. Teacher commitment to continuous improvement can also be an evaluation tool and demonstrated by participation in Professional Learning Communities, Professional Development, pursuit of higher degrees, etc.

The only way for us to gain any ground in trying to reclaim our schools is to participate. Below is a list of the scheduled discussions being hosted by the Louisiana Association of Educators.

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