The summer has just started. Few parents are thinking about the school at this moment, but bureaucrats do. They are paid for doing so. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into the law last December, replacing the No Child Left Behind (NLCB). The new law assigns more responsibilities to individual states, shifting more power to them, and away from the federal department of education (USED).
In May, the USED chief, John King, the former NY education commissioner, issued regulations (interpretations) that are trying to assert the grip of the federal department. The Congress will discuss the proposed regulations and vote on adopting them. Like with the NCLB before, it’s in the interest of every parent to be informed how the ESSA will be interpreted on the local level, in each school, and for each student—your child. Take few moments and make yourselves familiar with the proposed regulations and also with recommendations of other parents and educators. Read the Washington Post opinion column.
There are two ways to participate in responding the proposed regulations:
- Sign the letter with recommendations formulated by the Network for Public Education (see their recommendations below).
- Express your opinions (or copy and paste the abbreviated recommendations) directly at the USED, Office of Federal Register (for the record). The period of public comments is open till August 1st, 2016.
Your intervention in both instances is important. They are not mutually exclusive. First, you send the letter to your representatives AND, second, you create a record that will be reviewed during the approval process. Without the record, the review committee has nothing to work with, except listening to the persuasive King. In the proposed regulations, (full text here) the US Department of Education is foisting its own preferences while tying the hands of states, districts, parents, and educators to devise their own accountability systems, that ESSA was supposed to encourage. Specifically:
- Draft regulation 200.15: This proposed regulation forces states to intervene aggressively in, and/or to fail, schools in which more than 5% of students chose not to take the state assessments. The proposed regulation conflicts directly with the unambiguous language in ESSA that confers an explicit parental right to refuse such assessments, and which simultaneously prevents ESSA from preempting a state or local law regarding the decision of a parent to not have their child participate in the state assessments. (“Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed as preempting a State or local law regarding the decision of a parent to not have the parent’s child participate in the academic assessments under this paragraph.” Section 1111(b)(2)(K).)
Recommendation: Conflict with the clear and unambiguous statutory language and intent of ESSA cannot stand. USDOE should simply restate ESSA’s language allowing the right to opt out as well as its requirements that states test 95 percent of students in identified grades and factor low participation rates into their accountability systems. Alternatively, the department could write no regulation at all. In either case, ESSA unambiguously confers upon the states the right to decide how to implement this provision. States must be permitted to exercise their right to determine what measures should be taken, if any, in the event that 95 percent of students are not tested due to parents exercising their right to refuse to allow their children to participate in state assessments.
- Draft regulation 200.13: ESSA requires states to create a growth score as an indicator for elementary and middle schools. Secretary King has inserted “based on the reading/language arts and mathematics assessments” into the regulation. This language usurps a state’s right to develop its own growth model and prevents states from creating their own measures of student learning across the curriculum that could be 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 proposed regulation so that states have the freedom (and their constitutional right) to devise their own measures of student growth.
- Draft regulation 200.14: ESSA 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 proposed 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.
- Draft regulation 200.17: This proposed regulation 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. ESSA leaves (and NCLB left) the decision of minimum subgroup size up to 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 two (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.
- Draft regulation 200.18: This 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. This is why it has been severely criticized in Florida, for example, and why New York City has moved away from such a system. The proposed regulations go further and forbid states from boosting a school’s rating if it has made substantial improvement on the 4th or non-academic category.
By doing so, USDOE is again usurping the right of each state to determine its own rating system, and whether it chooses to provide a full or narrow picture of school performance.
Recommendation: USDOE 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 labelled with a single grade, just because that happens to be its own policy preference.