Education Week - February 10, 2016 - (Page 14)
GOVERNMENT & POLITICS
On K-12 Law
Next steps on ESSA mulled
The U.S. Department
of Education got
more than 350
comments on how
it should regulate
under the Every
Act. Some highlights:
By Alyson Klein
& Andrew Ujfiusa
Everyone from governors and state lawmakers down to advocates and parents has an opinion on how the U.S. Department of Education
should go about turning the sometimes-murky
verbiage of the Every Student Succeeds Act into
actual federal regulations-and more than 350
of them laid those opinions out during a quickturnaround written comment period.
An Education Week review of selected comments found many respondents offering detailed-and often contradictory-advice when
it comes to the law's provisions on accountability, test participation, assessment, teacher
qualifications, and more.
Some comments filed over the several-week
period ending Jan. 21 were broad. For example, the California Federation of Teachers, the
National Governors' Association, and others
asked for a light federal touch in the still-tobe-written regulations.
Others dove deep into the policy weeds. For
instance, Disability Rights Arkansas, an advocacy group, asked the department to make
sure states use research to back up their
choice of 'n-size'-the term for the minimum
number of students a school must have from
a particular subgroup in order for that group
to be considered for accountability purposes.
and technical assistance
must ensure that lowincome communities,
communities of color, the
and tribes are included in
Conference on Civil and
Human Rights, along with
about three dozen civil rights,
disability, and education
and California educators
are not interested in
having highly prescriptive
rules and mandates
education from the federal
government. This is
especially true when it
comes to requiring the
use of standardized
tests in making highstakes decisions in both
school and educator
state's readiness to
implement ESSA varies,
the federal government
should allow a flexible
timeline to allow for early
implementation or provide
additional time for
states to make necessary
changes to state policy
and improvements to
With regard to state
the department should
seek input from states and
local school districts and
provide explicit nonbinding
guidance and best
practices that can help
states and school districts
identify, set, and use a
variety of student success
-National School Boards
-California Federation of
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education
Still others dealt with practical questions.
The Mississippi Department of Education, for
example, asked for a list of which federal programs will continue under ESSA, so that the
state can figure out its own staffing.
In general, educators and the organizations
that advocate for them favor a regulatory philosophy that puts a premium on local decisionmaking, while civil rights organizations and
advocates for particular groups of students
are pressing for a more stringent approach to
accountability to maintain equity.
It's clear that ESSA gives states much greater
control over which low-performing schools to
identify for improvement than they had under
its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act.
But there are questions about how far that
new leeway goes. For instance, the law requires
states to incorporate into their school-ratings
systems both academic factors-such as test
scores and graduation rates-and factors that
get at school quality, such as teacher engage-
ment and access to advanced coursework. And
academic factors need to have "much greater"
weight as a group than non-academic factors.
It's unclear though, if the department will
decide to provide more specifics on what "much
Some commenters hope for federal guidance on the issue, including Mitchell D.
Chester, the commissioner of education in
Without any sort of rules of the road, the interpretation of "much greater weight" is likely
to vary widely, he reasoned-one state might
think it means that academic factors need to
account for 60 percent of a school's score, while
another might decide it means 95 percent.
But AASA, the School Superintendents Association, wants federal officials to give states
as much leeway as possible in this area.
One issue that came up over and over: testing participation rates.
ESSA keeps in place the NCLB law's requirement that schools test 95 percent of students, both for the whole school and for subgroups of students.
Under the NCLB law, schools that fell short
of that threshold were considered automatic
failures. Under ESSA, however, states get to
decide what happens to those schools.
The New York State Boards of Education,
like other groups, finds that confusing.
"This internal inconsistency only encourages parental refusal and places school districts throughout the country in an untenable
position," the boards wrote.
The NYSBE urged the department to make
it crystal clear that states and districts can
still pass laws that allow parents to opt out
without penalties-and that school districts
won't be punished if parents choose to exempt
their kids from testing.
'Proficiency' Bars on State Tests Are Seen Heading Upward
By Catherine Gewertz
States are raising their expectations for student "proficiency" on
tests of math and English/language
arts, and making their tests tougher
That's the conclusion of two new
studies released late last month.
They found that states have been
adopting more difficult academic
standards-in many cases, the common core-and then choosing or designing assessments that are more
challenging as well. States are setting cut scores on those tests that
produce much lower rates of proficiency than did their previous tests.
One study was published Jan. 27
in the journal Education Next. The
other was released Jan. 28 by Achieve
and the Collaborative for Student
Success, two groups that push for
higher standards. Both reports mirror the trend reported by Education
Week last fall, when it published its
national database of states' 2014-15
test scores alongside their previous
year's test scores. That database
shows big drops in proficiency rates
in many states as they adopted tests
aligned to new academic standards.
The Education Next study found
that since 2011, 45 states have
raised the performance levels for
proficiency. Thirty-six of the 45 did
so within just the last two years.
The report is the seventh in a series that examines states' proficiency
rates over the past decade. The newest analysis, by researchers from Harvard University's Program on Education Policy and Governance, compares
states' test scores from 2014-15 with
the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, in grades
4 and 8. It assigns each state a letter
grade to reflect how closely its proficiency rates mirror those on NAEP,
which is widely considered the gold
standard in academic assessment.
Twenty-four states earned A's
overall for closely reflecting NAEP's
definition of proficiency in 2015. In
a 2011 version of the EdNext study,
only three states earned A's. In the
2005 version, only six states did.
Eighteen states' ratings jumped by
two letter grades or more since 2013.
"In short," writes researcher Paul
E. Peterson, with co-authors Samuel
Barrows and Thomas Gift, "standards have suddenly skyrocketed."
The trend is "a hopeful sign that
proficiency standards have moved in
the right direction. If student perfor-
14 | EDUCATION WEEK | February 10, 2016 | www.edweek.org
mance shifts upward in tandem, it
will signal a long-awaited enhancement in the quality of American
schools," they write.
Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas,
and Virginia got particularly low
marks-C's and D's in 4th and 8th
grade reading and math-for continuing to produce high proficiency rates
on their tests, in contrast to NAEP's
findings. Sixteen states got A's in both
subjects and at both grade levels.
Closing the 'Honesty Gap'
The report by Achieve concluded
that more than half the states have
made their tests harder to pass,
bringing proficiency rates more in
line with NAEP. That means that
proficiency rates in many states have
dropped from the 70 percent and 80
percent ranges into the 20s and 30s.
For some activists, that's a sign
that education is being distorted by
meaningless ways of gauging student learning. For others, the drop in
proficiency rates paints a more honest picture of how well schools are
serving students. Achieve is in that
latter camp, and welcomed a narrowing of what it calls "the honesty
gap" between what state tests have
reported and what the NAEP shows.
The Achieve report is an update of
its work last May, when it reported
that, in more than half the states, the
proportion of students scoring proficient on 2013-14 state tests was 30
points higher than it was for the 2013
NAEP. The new report compares proficiency rates on state tests in 2014-15
to those on the fall 2015 NAEP in 4th
grade reading and 8th grade math.
Its study found that 26 states narrowed those gaps by 10 percentage
points or more in either 4th grade
reading or 8th grade math. Sixteen
states erased, or nearly erased, the
gaps between their own proficiency
rates and those on NAEP in one or
both subjects by narrowing the gaps
to 5 percentage points or less.
Three states-Massachusetts, New
York, and Utah-earned praise for
having NAEP-like expectations in
both subjects. New York's expectations are even higher than NAEP's:
Proficiency rates on its 4th grade
reading and 8th grade math tests
are 3 percentage points to 10 percentage points lower than those
rates on the NAEP, Achieve reports.
The report calls out four states
with particularly big gaps between
their definition of proficiency and
the NAEP's: Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma,
and Virginia. Texas was the biggest
offender, with gaps of 40-plus points
between its own proficiency rates and
those on the NAEP. (Texas officials did
not return a call seeking comment by
deadline.) Since 2011-12, Texas has
been planning to phase in higher cut
scores on its state tests, but delayed
that move until 2015-16.
Georgia is a state that has drawn
praise for raising its proficiency
standards. In 2014-15, it switched
to tests that required students to
explain their thinking rather than
answer only multiple-choice questions. Proficiency rates dropped from
the 90s into the 30s and 40s, close to
the state's NAEP proficiency rates.
"I used to refer to Georgia as the
land of proficiency: Come to Georgia
and you, too, will be proficient," joked
Melissa Fincher, Georgia's assessment chief, referring to the old test's
high proficiency rates. "But really, we
needed to make a change. It was time
to recalibrate our expectations and
be very thoughtful about what we
wanted our students to achieve."
Visit the CURRICULUM MATTERS blog, which tracks
news and trends on this issue.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - February 10, 2016
Education Week - February 10, 2016
Federal Trade Regulators Target Brain-Training Product Claims
In States Hungry for Teachers, Policy Menu Expands
PARCC Scores Lower On Computer Exams
Equipping Parents on Spec. Ed.
News in Brief
In Chicago, Schools’ Financial Crisis Deepens Divisions
Advocates’ Report Hits States For Overtesting, Other Policies
Blogs of the Week
Digital Directions: Partnership Boosts Data Privacy
Kindergarten: Less Play, More Academics (infographic
‘Proficiency’ Bars on State Tests Are Seen Heading Upward
Views Clash On K-12 Law Rulemaking
Blogs of the Week
Ed. Dept. CIO Grilled By Oversight Panel
State of the States
I’m Tired of ‘Grit’
Why Small Steps Are Better for Small Schools
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
In Low-Income Schools, Teachers Need Guidance
Education Week - February 10, 2016