Sunday, December 13, 2015

ESSA and Iowa Schools: Meet the New Boss (Guest Post)

[I’ve been putting off the task of posting about the Every Student Succeeds Act, which is the successor to (and in some ways a departure from) No Child Left Behind. I tend to react to changes in federal and state education laws the same way I react to severe weather: I just hunker down and prepare for the worst. Fortunately, Karen W. from Education in Iowa offered this great summary of how the new Act will affect school districts here in Iowa. —CL]

The big education news last week was that the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era has officially ended with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). There are a number of articles and websites summarizing various aspects of ESSA:

  • US Department of Education, ESSA page (includes a comparison chart with NCLB and waivers plus ESSA highlights and links to other documents)
  • Alliance for Excellent Education, ESSA page (includes links to one-page fact sheets and short videos on accountability, assessments, high schools, and teachers and school leaders)

Any of these links can get you started. However, a key change in ESSA is a shift in responsibility for the details of policies from the federal government to the states. This means that understanding--or predicting--what ESSA might mean for Iowa schools requires looking not just at the language of ESSA, but also looking at current Iowa law, the Iowa Department of Education (DE), and the Iowa State Board of Education (State Board).

For this post, I have looked at parts of the ESSA and tried to link to related Iowa state law and statewide education policies. Note that this post isn’t a comprehensive look at ESSA.

SINA (School in Need of Assistance) Transfers
Under NCLB, school districts were required to offer an option for students to transfer out of SINA-designated Title I schools. These SINA transfers will be ending; section 1000 strikes section 1116, which contained, among other things, the SINA transfer provisions. Transfer options could be offered by school districts unless prohibited by state law.

Power of the Purse Strings
Despite coverage suggesting federal power will be restricted, the Secretary may withhold federal Title I funds from states determined to be failing any of the requirements of this section.

If you were hoping for an end to Common Core, don’t look for it here. States are required to “provide an assurance that the State has adopted challenging academic content standards and aligned academic achievement standards”. States must have standards for mathematics, reading or language arts, and science that are aligned to college and career readiness (though the ESSA doesn’t use that specific language here).

There is no evidence that state-level policy makers have much interest in moving away from the Common Core, though they prefer the label Iowa Core instead. See also the State Board’s commitment to the Smarter Balanced assessments, which are aligned to the Common Core standards. Even if the Iowa Legislature were to insist upon use of the Next Generation Iowa Assessments instead of the Smarter Balanced assessments, the NGIA are aligned to the Iowa Core/Common Core standards.

The ESSA maintains annual assessment requirements in mathematics and reading or language arts in grades 3-8, and once in high school. And science assessments administered at least once during the grade bands of 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12; Iowa currently assesses science in grades 5, 8, and 11.

Beginning in the 2016-17 school year, Iowa Code 256(7)(21)(b)(2) requires annual assessments in mathematics, reading, and science in grades 3 through 11. This assessment schedule exceeds federal requirements and could be scaled back if the Legislature chooses to act. Assessing less often could save money; however, assessing in all grades 3 through 11 does provide data for calculating annual growth for each student.

The ESSA requires assessments to “involve multiple up-to-date measures of student academic achievement, including measures that assess higher-order thinking skills and understand, which may include measures of student academic growth and may be partially delivered in the form of portfolios, projects, or extended performance tasks”.

Performance tasks were a selling point of the Smarter Balanced assessments. Discussion in the science assessment task force meetings suggests that performance tasks may be considered a necessary component in assessing Next Generation Science Standards.

The ESSA permits states to choose between administering a single summative assessment or “multiple state-wide interim assessments during the course of the academic year that result in a single summative score that provides valid, reliable, and transparent information on student achievement or growth”.

Beginning in the 2016-17 school year, Iowa Code 256(7)(21)(b)(2) requires annual assessments to be administered “during the last quarter of the school year”. The Legislature could choose to change this requirement to permit interim assessments resulting in a summative score. Discussion during science assessment task force meetings suggests there may be interest in at least talking about statewide assessment performance tasks that would be embedded in instructional units throughout the school year (moving away from summative assessment as a single event). [Question: what would this mean for local control of curriculum and instruction?]

The ESSA permits states to develop and administer computer adaptive assessments for accountability purposes. Students taking computer adaptive assessments are not required to be administered the same assessment items. Computer adaptive must measure proficiency of grade level standards but may also measure proficiency and growth using items above or below the student’s grade level. See the Flypaper blog for a quick explanation of why this provision matters.

I would expect interest from the DE in using this provision to make better use of the Smarter Balanced assessments in measuring achievement and growth for students working far below and far above grade level. [Question: would students working far above grade level be better served through subject matter or whole grade acceleration? Would more precise measurement result in better acceleration decisions or will teachers be expected to differentiate instruction at levels far above the grade level they teach? At some point in high school, if not sooner, won’t we run out of above grade level items for these students to measure growth?]

The ESSA permits state laws that would allow parents to opt their children out of participating in accountability assessments. I would not expect DE or State Board support for enacting an opt-out law in Iowa. Note that the ESSA maintains the NCLB requirement that ninety-five percent of students participate in accountability assessments. This would seem to preclude using sampling for accountability assessments, at least at federally required grade levels.

The links above provide descriptions of changes in accountability systems. I have no idea what long-term goals the DE might choose, but I would expect them to be more realistic than reaching a one hundred percent proficiency rate for all students in a short period of time.

In 2013, the Legislature directed the DE to develop the Attendance Center Performance Rankings. HF 215 listed a series of required and optional indicators and the DE released a report in July, 2014. This system may form the basis of an Iowa accountability system, or at least suggest what optional indicators might be used to rank and identify the lowest performing schools.

The DE is working on a Differentiated Accountability System (read more about it here). This system may hint at the direction the DE might take in intervening with the lowest performing Iowa schools.

Teacher Leadership and Evaluation
The ESSA does not require states to implement teacher and leader evaluations systems. However, the DE is committed to the Iowa Teacher Leadership and Compensation System and the Council on Educator Development is in the process of developing a statewide teacher and administrator evaluation system; preliminary recommendations can be found here.

At this moment, I am cautiously pessimistic about the ESSA resulting in positive change in Iowa schools. Should I be more optimistic?

*ESEA is the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. NCLB was one reauthorization of ESEA. ESSA is the current reauthorization of ESEA.


Anonymous said...

I wish these blogs had a "like" button. Thank you for this information!

Amy said...

Hey Chris, totally different topic, but why do we have district sporting/club events held caucus night? Means parents either can't caucus or have to scramble for rides/favors, again affecting the less-well-off disproportionately.

Chris said...

Anonymous -- Thanks!

Amy -- I'm guessing that it's because the actual date for the caucus is usually up in the air until a couple of months before, and the district probably plans events further out than that. It would be great if they could adjust, though, once the date is settled.