As the ESSA transition takes shape this year, there is anxiety and uncertainty at both the state and district levels. ESSA implementation has already begun, as some states have submitted their plans early (or they’re close to finalizing) for the U.S. Education Dept. How can educators better prepare for the next step of ESSA, and how will the shake-up on the federal side impact them in coming months? On February 1, Education Week hosted a virtual summit on ESSA, bringing together their top journalists and a handful of speakers/moderators from state education department leaders, district curriculum and CAOs, accountability and assessment researchers, and federal policy experts.
There were a number of discussion themes throughout the day. Participants engaged in live discussions around a variety of topics: assessments, whole-child and non-academic factors, the federal landscape, professional development for teachers, and stakeholder participation. Educators sought to better understand the challenges coming to the classroom – what the new flexibility meant for assessments, how the transition to a new education secretary would impact them, and the role teachers could have with implementing ESSA. We’ve rounded up some of the highlights below.
Uncertainties across the Political Landscape
Currently, Betsy DeVos’s nomination for education secretary is in jeopardy, with two Republican senators voting against her bid this week. Assuming she gets the majority vote, summit experts believe that ESSA will continue to move forward. It would be unlikely for the federal government to step in more, however, ESSA implementation will depend on the strictness of the federal government, since they have to review and approve states’ plans.
Then there’s the question of the federal budget, which could impact Title IV for education. While ESSA specifically set aside $1.6 billion annually for Title IV funding, this could easily change. According to Andrew Ujifusa, who covers federal and state education policy news for Education Week: “The most recent Senate budget proposal only gave it $300 million, while the House gave it $1 billion. Those numbers might radically change under a Trump administration. Even under the $1.6 billion authorization, many districts could end up getting very little Title IV money, on the order of just a few thousand dollars total.”
The Brave New World of Student Assessment
ESSA has given states a new kind of flexibility in assessments and testing. For instance, they could choose to deliver test results in the form of portfolio presentations or projects. This opens up a number of options. If allowed by their state, districts would be able to use a “nationally recognized high school test” like the ACT or SAT instead of their statewide tests. There are seven states participating in ESSA’s Innovative Assessment Pilot this year. The idea is that they could design local tests and scale them up statewide down the road. New Hampshire, for example, is developing performance tasks. They reflect multi-day projects, so they go beyond a paper/pencil vs. online dichotomy.
Using SEL in School Accountability Systems
Research has shown a strong connection between social-emotional learning (SEL) being addressed in schools and students’ achievement. At the same time, parents are questioning the level of data being collected, how scores are decided, and how it’s being used (e.g., could it be used in the future by employers?). There aren’t any states yet that have committed to an SEL accountability measure, mainly because it relies heavily on student surveys.
Common Core Standards Aren’t Going Anywhere
While state houses are experiencing high uncertainty, the ESSA transition hasn’t created the same kind of turmoil for districts and classrooms. Currently, 40 states are using the Common Core, and it’s become more ingrained in the classroom than ever. In the past two to three years, the number of teachers who’ve had the training has grown exponentially, and it will be incumbent on district leaders and states to ensure that training is ongoing to support teachers. Recommended Reading: More Teacher Preparation Needed to Implement Common Core Standards
Experts Predict Where ESSA Will Be in 2018
To end the day, Education Week’s panelists chimed in on their predictions for ESSA after the first year of implementation. They anticipate a positive outcome from the Innovative Assessment Pilot, prompting growth for other states. Alternative measures will give educators different answers on what “performance” means, and it will lead to new conversations. More states have been moving toward measuring “growth” instead of “achievement,” which will provide two very different levels of results. And what if you measure something with a different outcome – like social emotional learning as a measurement – is this really telling us much about the performance of the school, not the student?