Education Week - May 9, 2018 - 16
GOVERNMENT & POLITICS
Woven Into ESSA Plans
States seek systemic route to steady gains
By Alyson Klein
"Continuous improvement" has
quickly become a buzzword in K-12
policy and practice, as states, districts, and schools strive for systemic, long-term gains in student
achievement, instead of looking for
the next, shiniest silver bullet.
In fact, even without much meaningful prodding from the federal
government, states have woven the
strategy in various forms into their
plans for implementing the Every
Student Succeeds Act. Those plans,
which go into effect this school
year, will help guide goal-setting,
accountability, and school improvement for the foreseeable future.
Although the emphasis on continuous improvement varies, "We now
have 50 plans that say, 'We have
data, we're looking at the data,
we're using it to set plans, we're not
just picking something out of a hat
and hoping,' " said Paige Kowalski,
the executive vice president of the
Data Quality Campaign, a research
and advocacy organization that has
conducted a forthcoming analysis of
continuous improvement in ESSA
ESSA, which passed back in
2015, does not explicitly mention
continuous improvement, a broad
term for using certain structures
and tools, especially data, to explore and evaluate the strengths
and weaknesses of systems and
schools and pinpoint solutions over
time in a sort of running feedback
loop. And the application that the
Trump administration gave states
to use for federal plans doesn't ask
about it specifically, either.
But ESSA supporters say the law
is aimed at moving away from the
compliance-driven system of its
predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act, giving states the chance
to charge forward on their own visions. States must set long-range
and shorter-term goals for student
achievement and graduation rates,
and come up with their own strategies for fixing low-performing
schools, instead of relying on federally dictated interventions.
A handful of states are using the
law as an opportunity to rethink
their systems through a continuous-improvement lens, according
to experts who have analyzed the
Some states are revamping their
state education agencies, putting a
greater focus on using data to support all schools and districts, not
just the ones that are struggling
the most. Others are using data
and constant evaluation-major tenets of continuous improvement-
to inform and refine their efforts to
use "evidence based interventions"
with the lowest-performing schools,
as ESSA requires. And still others
have pledged to keep revisiting and
revising their ESSA plans.
Still, some experts were disappointed with the quality of state
plans on continuous improvement.
"Incentivizing continuous improvement, I think, is actually
the point of ESSA, and very few
people are doing that well," said
Joanne Weiss, who served as the
chief of staff to former U.S. Secre-
Although the term isn't
specified in the Every Student
Succeeds Act itself, state
plans for ESSA are embracing
some form of "continuous
changes, informed by data,
aimed at helping schools,
districts, and state education
agencies bolster outcomes for
students over time. Among
the examples in ESSA plans
submitted to the federal
16 | EDUCATION WEEK | May 9, 2018 | www.edweek.org
tary of Education Arne Duncan.
Weiss participated in a review of
state plans that focused in part on
continuous improvement and that
was spearheaded by Bellwether
Education Partners, a consulting
organization, and the Collaborative for Student Success, an advocacy group.
"Most states are super vague.
They just generally offer vague lists
of evidence-based interventions
that districts may use," Weiss said.
But Dan Gordon, a senior legal
and policy adviser for EducationCounsel, an education consulting
firm, noted that continuous improvement isn't something states
were asked to address. It's not a
strong theme in "enough" state
plans, he said, but "there are a
number of states [where it is] at
the heart of their theory of action,"
said Gordon, who has worked on
an analysis of continuous improvement in ESSA plans for Results for
America, a research organization,
as well as a forthcoming look at the
topic from EducationCounsel.
"The states that spoke to it, some
of them really spoke to it in deep
and meaningful ways that are exciting for what it could be," he said.
Continuous improvement, which
blends popular concepts from the
business, nonprofit, and health-care
worlds, is of deep interest to the Bill
& Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates
has or is currently providing funding for the Collaborative for Student
Success, EducationCounsel, the
Data Quality Campaign, and Education Week, although not always
for the specific purpose of studying
Some states have used ESSA as
an opportunity to rethink how their
state education agencies engage on
school improvement across the board.
For instance, Georgia is making a shift from having one school
improvement office focused on the
schools with the biggest problems
to having the entire state education agency consider the needs
of all schools and districts in the education agency. In the Buckeye
state-from long-flailing schools to State, districts could get assistance
the highest flyers. The state has di- in bolstering data quality, or tap the
vided its schools into four tiers, in- services of an "improvement liaison"
cluding one for schools that haven't with expertise in the sort of "evidence
been identified for extra support based" interventions ESSA calls for.
And in Vermont, every school and
The law requires states and district, whether it is low- or highdistricts to give intensive help to performing, must submit a "continuschools in the bottom 5 percent of ous improvement plan" to the state.
performers and those
Kentucky is taking a simwhere vulnerable subilar approach, according
groups of students aren't TINKERING
to the Results for America
performing well. But it TOWARD
isn't as specific about IMPROVEMENT
In Vermont, these conwhat happens in schools
that seem to be chug- ABOUT THIS
plans will be informed
SERIES: How can
ging along just fine.
both by hard data-like
Georgia though, wants from the constant
test scores and graduato identify potential churn of new
tion rates-and more hotrouble spots early on. school reform
listic feedback that comes
"We're trying to be more initiatives to
directly from educators in
proactive instead of re- sustained growth
neighboring districts. For
active," said Matt Jones, for students in very the past year, educators in
the chief of staff to Rich- different contexts?
the Green Mountain State
ard Woods, the state su- In this periodic
have conducted "school
series, we look at
perintendent of schools.
quality reviews," in which
the pros, cons, and
"Instead of waiting for evolution of
a team of outside educaa school to get on a list, "continuous
tors works with a nearby
how ca n we prov ide improvement"
district, giving feedback
some services and sup- in education.
on everything from curport up front to all our
riculum to social and emoschools and districts?"
That means that even some highThe reviews, which aren't punitive,
performing schools have had state have sometimes identified significant
officials pop by to examine instruc- differences in instruction from one
tion or offer professional develop- school to another, even within the
ment, Jones said.
same small district, officials say.
And the state is moving away
"Sometimes the school district is
from confining school improvement aware that there are disparities, but
to a single office. Instead, it is tap- to hear that or have that affirmed by
ping the expertise of staffers who an outside group of educators, ... it
focus on teacher quality, leader- really gives it some legs," said Jesse
ship, or curriculum, to help meet Roy, the education quality assurance
the needs of its schools, Jones said. coordinator at the Vermont education
Other states are moving in a sim- agency.
ilar direction, according to Results
And New Mexico is piloting a "realfor America's analysis.
time" data system, with an initial 20
districts participating. The goal is to
allow the state to probe beyond just
Continuum of Support
reading and math achievement, figFor instance, Ohio is planning to uring out, for example, the number
place all its districts in a "continuum of 9th graders who are behind where
of support" to figure out what kinds of they need to be on their credits, or
extra help they need from their state how many 6th graders have missed
Developed a School Improvement Support
Network as part of a redesigned Office
of School Improvement to help districts
craft plans to improve low-performing
schools. The network trains district
and state officials on understanding
the needs of low-performing schools,
and identifying the root causes of their
problems, employing data in the school
Working with Proving Ground, an
initiative out of Harvard University, to
study the impact of evidence-based
interventions on low-performing schools.
Districts and schools must submit
"continuous improvement" plans to
the state that take into account both
quantitative data such as test scores
and graduation rates and qualitative
data from school quality reviews
performed by neighboring educators.
Set initial long-term goals for the first
five years of ESSA plan implementation
and will continuously update its goals
for achievement and graduation rates
annually. That way the goals can be
regularly adjusted based on student
outcomes over time.
Working to develop a "real time" data
system that will help the state and
schools answer questions like how many
9th graders are behind where they need
to be in terms of credit, or how many
students have transferred from one
school to another. Has reached out to the
education community to get feedback on
the state's submitted ESSA plan.
SOURCES: Data Quality Campaign,
Education Counsel, Results for America,
Bellwether Education Partners, Collaborative
for Student Success, Education Week.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - May 9, 2018
Education Week - May 9, 2018
Schools Play Catch Up to Rise in Student Vaping
Teacher Strikes Show Power in Numbers
Educators Battling Class Distractions Of ‘Fortnite Game’
Ronald A. Wolk, Dies at 86; Launched Education Week
News in Brief
Study: Language-Learning Ability Is Strong Until Late Teens
Tenn. Struggles to Clean Up Huge Online Testing Mess
Legalities and Politics Collide in Teacher Work Stoppages
Improvement Mode Woven Into ESSA Plans
Wide Swings Reported in Desegregation Data
Derek W. Black: Don’t Call the Teacher Pay Hikes a ‘Raise’
Sarah M. Stitzlein: Does School Choice Put Freedom Above Equity?
H. Richard Milner IV: The Emotional Drain of Teaching
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Lorena Garcia: The Case for Sex Sexuality Education
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - Ronald A. Wolk, Dies at 86; Launched Education Week
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - 2
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - Contents
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - News in Brief
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - 5
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - Study: Language-Learning Ability Is Strong Until Late Teens
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - 7
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - Tenn. Struggles to Clean Up Huge Online Testing Mess
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - 9
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - Legalities and Politics Collide in Teacher Work Stoppages
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - 11
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - 12
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - 13
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - 14
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - 15
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - Improvement Mode Woven Into ESSA Plans
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - Wide Swings Reported in Desegregation Data
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - 18
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - 19
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - Sarah M. Stitzlein: Does School Choice Put Freedom Above Equity?
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - H. Richard Milner IV: The Emotional Drain of Teaching
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - Letters
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - Lorena Garcia: The Case for Sex Sexuality Education
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - CW1
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - CW2
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - CW3
Education Week - May 9, 2018 - CW4