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What’s in the state’s ESSA plan?



Monitor staff
Tuesday, June 20, 2017

In 2015, Congress got rid of No Child Left Behind, installing the Every Student Succeeds Act in its place. It was a rare bipartisan achievement and hailed as an end of the test-and-punish regime.

Now, states are preparing to send their plans to comply with the new law to the federal government. In New Hampshire, education department officials released a draft plan in May, and are accepting public comment until Friday.

ESSA doesn’t actually change how often schools must administer standardized tests. Annual testing is still required in third through eighth grades, and once in high school. But it does allow states more flexibility in deciding what schools need to report, what the goals are, and how schools get flagged as struggling.

“The opportunity comes in developing an accountability system that can include growth, that can include measures outside of proficiency, to make sure that we’re looking holistically at students,” said Heather Gage, the director of educational improvement at the state Department of Education.

Reporting indicators

As under NCLB, districts will still have to report their high school graduation rates and how well students do on annual standardized tests. (School districts that are participating in the state’s pilot PACE program don’t take standardized tests every year and instead use locally designed assessments. Provided the federal government renews the state’s waiver, that will continue.)

But under the state’s ESSA plan, schools will be assessed based on new metrics, too. New indicators include progress toward English language proficiency, and, at the elementary and middle school level, metrics about how well the average student is progressing from year to year and how well the lowest-performing students are progressing from year to year.

For high schools, an additional measure will be the college and career readiness indicator. Schools will be scored depending on how many students fulfill at least two of nine requirements aimed at showing they’re ready for what comes after graduation. They include completing a N.H. Scholars program, getting a passing score on an AP or International Baccalaureate exam, earning a career technical education credential, scoring at least a Level III on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test, SAT or ACT scores meeting or exceeding the college- and career-ready benchmark or completing an N.H. career pathway program of study.

Who gets help?

Based on how well students do according to those indicators, schools will be flagged for extra support. Schools who get that help will come in two categories: Comprehensive Support and Improvement and Targeted Improvement and Support.

Schools that score in the bottom fifth percentile in the state according to those combined indicators or whose graduation rates are below 67 percent will be identified as CSI schools. TSI schools will be indentified when subgroups consistently underperform according to the goals set by the state.

Goals

Under NCLB, the goal was to reach 100 percent proficiency by 2014. That didn’t happen. ESSA allows states to set their own goals, which must be both “ambitious” and “reasonable.”

For all students, the draft plan sets the goalposts at 53.77 percent proficient in math and 74.04 percent proficient in English language arts by 2025.

The plan also sets different targets for subgroups of students. For example, students with disabilities will be expected to hit 25.05 percent proficiency in math and 41.34 percent proficiency in English by 2025. Economically disadvantaged students are expected to reach 37.09 percent proficiency in math and 56.47 percent proficiency by 2025.

Feedback

According to Gage, the Department of Education has already received more than 400 comments about the state’s plan.

State ESSA plans are of particular interest to civil rights advocates, who see them as key tools in holding states accountable for providing equitable learning opportunities to marginalized students.

Melissa Turner, a senior manager for state policy at the National Center for Learning Disabilities, has looked at New Hampshire’s ESSA plan.

She lauded New Hampshire for its work on personalized learning and universal design for learning – evidence-based practices – which have been shown to improve outcomes for all students, but especially for students with disabilities.

But she criticized the plan for setting proficiency goals that were “significantly lower for students with disabilities.” And she worried that the state’s plan made it too hard to identify a school for TSI.

“There’s just a lot of hoops before you’d get identified for support,” she said. “Really, what we’d like is a more agile system.”

The state will spend about a month tweaking the plan based on feedback before submitting it to the U.S. Department of Education for review in September.

The state’s draft plan, along with a survey, is available online at education.nh.gov/essa.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)