Final U.S. DOE Regulations For ESSA Accountability Leave Same Bad Test, Shame, & Punish Policies & No Changes On Opt Out

The United States Department of Education released the final regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act accountability section of the law.  Once again, despite protest by the Republican led Education & The Workforce Committee, the U.S. DOE is leaving many things that ESSA was supposed to get rid of.  We still have the damn standardized tests as the measurement of what makes a school failing.  We still have the blame game for teachers in the “lowest” 5% of Title I schools.  We still have the Feds indicating that state accountability systems must factor participation rate below 95% as part of their scoring matrix.  Nothing has changed.  Of course, the states can submit their own state standards to the U.S. DOE, but let’s get real- most states already have their standards (Common Core) in place.  Common Core and tests like PARCC and the Smarter Balanced Assessment are NOT going anywhere.  I don’t care what Donald Trump or Betsy DeVos say.

One thing the U.S. DOE did change was the due dates state ESSA plans.  Now they are April 3rd and September 18th.  Previously, they had been March 31st or July 31st.  The Delaware DOE (with no stakeholder input) chose the March 31st deadline (but said they would submit it on March 6th).

So can we expect more “priority” schools coming out of ESSA?

In schools identified for comprehensive or additional targeted support and improvement, the final regulations require that their improvement plans review resource inequities related to per-pupil expenditures and access to ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers; advanced coursework; in elementary schools, full-day kindergarten and preschool programs; and specialized instructional support personnel such as school counselors and social workers—drawing on data already collected and reported under ESSA.

And what about opt-out?  Did the U.S. DOE offer any mercy to schools where parents make a constitutional, fundamental, and God-given right to opt their child out of the state assessment?  Yeah right!

To provide a fair and accurate picture of school success, and help parents, teachers, school leaders, and state officials understand where students are struggling and how best to support them, the law requires that all students take statewide assessments and that states factor into their accountability systems participation rates below 95 percent for all students or subgroups of students, such as English learners or students with disabilities. The regulations do not prescribe how states do this; rather they suggest possibilities for how states might take into account low participation rates and allow states to propose their own actions that can be differentiated based on the extent of the issue, but are sufficiently rigorous to improve schools’ participation rates in the future. Schools missing 95 percent participation must also develop plans to improve based on their local contexts and stakeholder input.

This is just more of the same but wrapped in a different package.  And of course, the National PTA, NEA, AFT and other organizations that should have known better jumped all over this law a year ago.  You reap what you sow!

Is The Delaware DOE A Victim Of Federal Mandate As Much As Our Students & Educators?

The more I look into education on a federal level, the more I think it is not just parents who are bullied and intimidated, but also each state Department of Education.  For the past week, I have been closely examining the “school report card” fiasco in Delaware.  Dubbed the “Delaware School Success Framework”, this is a new accountability system for public schools in Delaware.  The controversy around it has centered around a participation rate penalty which the Delaware Department of Education said was a “non-negotiable” and “required” item on the framework.  While this is still being investigated by this blog and others at this point, and what the DOE said and did at different pints in time, it is becoming obvious US DOE “mandates” can be non-regulatory but said in a way it could be easily perceived as threatening or intimidating.

The participation rate is the percentage of children who take the state assessment, which in Delaware’s case is the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  The rule is that it can’t go below the 95% mark, otherwise there would be penalties.  For years, everyone assumed this was a cut in federal funding, which has never happened.  But as I review Delaware and other state’s 2015 ESEA Flexibility Waivers, I’m finding some states are choosing the participation rate penalty in lieu of checking the area off where they would receive cuts in funding.  If the feds have never done this before, when many schools have clearly gone way below the 95% mark, why would they be harping on this now?

When states like New York, New Jersey and Washington had very high opt-out rates statewide, this drew a lot more attention to the issue.  States like Delaware and Oregon had opt-out legislation passed by their legislators.  In Oregon, the Governor signed it.  In Delaware, the Governor vetoed the bill.  But opt-out will continue, and probably in larger numbers this school year.  This is not a train that can be stopped.

Other mandates by the US DOE, such as the labeling of Title I schools as priority or focus, seem to be closely watched and monitored by the feds.  These schools labels are all based on the proficiency ratings from the state assessments, which is very dangerous.  High poverty schools can not be compared to regular schools whose students are not within the same sub-groups.  It is a system designed specifically to measure up or close.  The very term “sub-group” would indicate these students are below others.  I watched the Delaware DOE stumble through this last year, and I was privy to internal and external emails surrounding this debacle through released FOIA material.  The whole process is so convoluted it would take a Mensa genius to figure it all out.

Who in Delaware will stand up to the Feds once and for all for the sake of our children?  If you are banking on Governor Markell, I don’t see that happening.  Will the interim Secretary of Education, Dr. Steven Godowsky, step up?  And how will the upcoming ESEA reauthorization impact all of this?  And will President Obama even sign the bill if Congress gets together and successfully combines both versions of the legislation?  The next few months will be very interesting for education.