Education Policy Alert

The Every Student Succeeds Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama to put an end to the regime of No Child Left Behind and give more flexibility to the states and local schools.  However, recent proposed regulations by Secretary of Education John King usurp some of the power extended to local schools and state departments by micromanaging the ability of states to create their own accountability systems and diminishing the opportunity for parents and educators to have voice in their school accountability system.  Based upon input from the National Center for Fair & Open Testing and the Network for Public Education, below are proposed federal regulations that should not be implemented.  Each proposed regulation is followed by a recommendation that supports the original legislative intent of ESSA.

Draft regulations that are a concern

  1. Draft regulation 200.15 would force states to intervene aggressively and/or fail schools in which more than 5% of students choose not to take the state tests. This violates the provision in ESSA recognizing “a State or local law regarding the decision of a parent to not have the parent’s child participate in the academic assessments.”  Recommendation:  This regulation should be deleted.  States should be able to exercise their right to determine what measures should be taken if students opt out.
  1. Draft regulation 200.13 requires states to create a growth score as an indicator for elementary and middle schools. The proposed rule has inserted based on the reading/language arts and mathematics assessments into the regulation.  This would prevent states from creating their own measures of student learning across the curriculum, based on factors other than standardized test scores.  Recommendation:  The language “based on the reading/language arts and mathematics assessments” should be deleted from the regulation so that states have the freedom to devise their own measures of student growth.
  1. Draft regulation 200.14 requires that there be four accountability indicators. The fourth is a school quality indicator that is not based on test scores or graduation rates.  States have the freedom to include school climate data, parent engagement, or other factors related to school quality.  The proposed regulation insists that such measures prove by research how they are linked to achievement or graduation rates, therefore restricting what states can include.  Recommendation:  This regulation should be amended by allowing states to encourage improvements in school climate, safety, engagement, or other factors that may or may not be directly linked to academic achievement, but are important in their own right.
  1. Draft regulation 200.17 would require that the test scores and graduation rates of any subgroup (such as students with an IEP or disadvantaged students) of at least 30 students be measured for accountability purposes. Both NCLB and the ESSA leave the decision of minimum subgroup size for the states to decide. The regulations argue that group size of 30 is sufficient to provide a fair and reliable rating, but this claim has no basis in research. It should be noted that with a group size of 30, even 2 absent students will push the school below the 95% participation requirement.  Recommendation:  The minimum group size should be decided by states, as the law requires, after consultation with researchers, given the high-stakes consequences for schools.
  1. Draft regulation 200.18 would require that each school receive a single “summative” grade or rating, derived from combining at least three of the four indicators used to assess its performance.  Yet imposing a single grade on schools has been shown in states and districts across the nation to be overly simplistic, unreliable, and unfair, and is nowhere mentioned in the law. The proposed regulations go further and forbid states from boosting a school’s rating if it has made substantial improvement on the 4thor non-academic category.  By doing so, the U.S. Department of Education is again undermining the right of each state to determine its own rating system and to choose whether to provide a full or narrow picture of school performance.  This draft regulation transforms ESSA’s requirement for “meaningful differentiation” among schools into a mandate that states create at least three distinct levels of school performance for each indicator.  ESSA does require states to identify their lowest performing five percent of schools as well as those in which “subgroups” of students are doing particularly poorly.  However, neither provision necessitates creation of three or more levels.  This proposal serves no educationally useful purpose.   This draft regulation would also pressure schools to focus on tests to avoid being placed in a lower level. As discussed above, performance levels are also another way to attack schools in which large numbers of parents opt out.   Recommendation:  The regulations should allow states to retain the authority given to them by ESSA to create their own rating systems, and to determine their own weighting of various factors. The federal government should be prevented from requiring that schools be labeled with a single grade, just because that happens to be its own policy preference.
  1. Draft regulation 200.18 further proposes that a state’s academic indicators together carry “much greater” weight than its “school quality” (non-academic) indicators. As reported in the media, members of Congress differ as to the intent of the relevant ESSA passage. Some say it simply means more than 50%, while others claim it implies much more than 50%. The phrase “much greater” is likely to push states to minimize the weight of non-academic factors in order to win plan approval from DOE, especially since the overall tone of the draft regulations emphasizes testing.  Recommendation:  The regulations should state that the academic indicators must count for more than 50% of the weighting in how a state identifies schools needing support.
  1. Draft regulation 200.19 would require states to use 2016-17 data to select schools for “support and improvement” in 2017-18.  This leaves states barely a year for implementation which is too little time to overhaul their accountability systems.  Adopting this regulation will have the harmful consequence of encouraging states to keep using a narrow set of test-based indicators and to select only one additional “non-academic” indicator.  Recommendation:  The regulations should allow states to use 2017-18 data to identify schools for 2018-19. This change is entirely consistent with ESSA’s language at 1111(c)(4)(D) which says states are to identify “beginning with school year 2017–2018… one statewide category of schools.”  It does not say that states should identify schools in 2016-17 for use in 2017-18.

What you can do to make a difference

  1. Register your concerns with these draft regulations before August 1 on the U.S. Department of Education website.
  1. Send a letter to your U.S. Representative and our two U.S. Senators and ask them to block these destructive regulations.
  1. Please share with me at wocallaghan@earthlink.net your response to this Education Policy Alert.  I am tracking the impact of the Ohio Public School Advocacy Network on this issue and will create a report to be posted on our OPSAN webpage and possibly shared in other ways.

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