Education Week - June 13, 2018 - 17
States Wrestle to Align Accountability Systems With ESSA
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
countability system-as they may
be tempted to do since states provide
the bulk of education dollars-it will
limit the potency of ESSA, which
was designed to boost the outcomes
of America's growing number of poor
and historically disadvantaged students, civil rights activists say.
Legislatures in all three states
sharply disagree with several core
components of ESSA: in Indiana, on
what qualifies as a high school diploma; in Colorado, on how to handle
schools with high rates of students
opting out of state tests; and in
Florida, on how to handle students'
After ESSA was passed in 2015, the
vast majority of states revised their
existing accountability systems to
comply with the federal law. But state
politicians in Colorado, Florida, and Indiana, for a variety of reasons, refused
to do so.
Education departments in those
states, knowing full well the bureaucratic headaches having two accountability systems can cause, applied
for waivers from the new federal law,
wrote DeVos long letters about the
effectiveness of their states' existing
accountability systems, and huddled
with district administrators and
elected officials to try to come up with
But with this year's legislative sessions coming to an end and ESSA set
to go into full effect this fall, state officials threw their hands up in defeat.
"It quickly became apparent that
there wasn't an appetite to get to one
system," said Jennifer McCormick, Indiana's schools superintendent. "The
legislature just wasn't going to budge."
The prospect of getting two separate
rankings based on two sets of factors
next year has infuriated district superintendents who originally saw ESSA
as a reboot to the federally driven
Most states have
managed to merge their
systems with federal
requirements under the
Every Student Succeeds
Act. But at least three
have indicated that their
state laws don't comply
with the federal law
and that districts and
schools will receive two
separate ratings next
SOURCE: Education Week
school accountability under the No
Child Left Behind Act, which ESSA
"For a lot of us, this is going to be a
public relations nightmare because
we have to explain how each of these
grades will impact our districts," said
Jeff Hendrix, the superintendent of
a district in Indiana known as the
School Town of Munster. "For some districts, communities are going to have
to decide, 'Which one do I worry about?
Should I worry about the state taking
me over or a cut in federal funding?' "
A large coalition of Latino and black
activists in Florida have petitioned the
federal government to reject Florida's
"The state proposes to bypass the
official accountability system with a
newly created shadow system, segregated from the state system for rating schools," the state's NAACP and
the League of United Latin American
Citizens wrote in a letter addressed
to DeVos and several members of
Congress. "The intent of Congress to
focus attention on the needs of struggling student subgroups would be
Florida's department of education
didn't respond to requests for an interview.
The education departments in Colorado and Indiana, whose ESSA plans
have been approved by DeVos, have
launched communication campaigns
to quell the outrage among superintendents.
"Colorado will not be returning to
the era of two accountability systems
as we had under No Child Left Behind," education Commissioner Katy
Anthes recently wrote in a letter addressed to district superintendents
and obtained by Education Week.
"Our state accountability system will
continue to be our primary means for
letting parents and communities know
how their schools are doing. Because
of added priorities of the new federal
law, it is likely that some additional
schools will be identified through the
Every Student Succeeds Act for extra
support and improvement based on
the performance of individual groups
of students and overall low graduation rates. Thankfully, the federal law
provides funding to help support these
schools in making improvements for
In Indiana, administrators have
been especially frustrated with their
state's grading system over the past
several years after exam scores were
botched and the state department several times over reset the proficiency
targets for schools.
Indiana school board member Katie
Mote said the purpose of the state's accountability system is completely different from ESSA's.
"Our state's accountability system is
designed to assess school performance,
and ESSA is designed to support students in order to direct federal dollars,"
Mote said. "We believe it's not possible
to align those two separate philosophical purposes. It's like apples and oranges."
While schools have yet to be ranked
under their federal accountability systems in Colorado, Florida, and Indiana, it's apparent, judged by a review
of their state and federal accountability systems, that the lists of schools
most in need of help will differ based
on the outlined criteria and the various weights assigned to each system's
For example, Colorado's and Indiana's ESSA plans factor in chronicabsenteeism rates at schools, while
neither of their existing statewide
Florida's "federal index" will consider
scores when ranking schools, while
the state's grade-based accountability
system does not.
"The state is going to give out conflicting information that's misleading,
dishonest, and the exact opposite of
transparent," said Rosa Castro Feinberg, a civil rights activist and scholar
is designed to assess
and ESSA is designed
to support students
in order to direct
We believe it's
not possible to align
those two separate
purposes. It's like
apples and oranges."
in Florida who has protested the
state's ESSA plan. "In terms of telling taxpayers and parents what the
true status of schools is, the attention won't be focused on who actually
There remains a large gap between
the outcome of America's schools and
how parents perceive them to perform.
Although just a third of America's
students are reported as meeting
state reading and math standards, for
example, 90 percent of parents think
their child is doing perfectly fine, according to a survey conducted by
Learning Heroes, a nonprofit group
that consults with states to design
more parent-friendly school report
The NCLB law in 2001 set into motion what many states considered a
heavy-handed accountability movement. But, for many states, politicians
had accountability systems already in
place. By 2004, 21 states had accountability systems that were different
from the federal system.
The Council of Chief State School
Officers in 2011 set about working
with states on merging their dual systems, and President Barack Obama
soon began handing out waivers from
the NCLB law to states in order to
flow federal money to the schools
states thought most in need of help.
But at least eight states never received waivers, and with the passing
of ESSA, officials in those states were
eager to finally get everyone on the
School Board Member
* Will provide two separate grades to each school and district,
one for the federal system and one for the state system.
* Will weigh student tests scores more heavily
than its federally approved ESSA accountability plan does.
* Defines high school diplomas differently than
its ESSA plan does.
* Will have a letter grade for each of its schools and a "federal index"
for its federal accountability system.
* Does not include English-language-proficiency exam scores as
ESSA requires. A separate "federal index" will provide grades that
factor in English-language-proficiency scores.
* Will identify two separate sets of schools in need of support.
* Doesn't count the scores of students who opt out
of the state test. As part of its ESSA accountability system, the
state will lower the score of schools that don't have more than
95 percent of their students participate in the state exam.
* Doesn't factor in chronic absenteeism the way that the federal
California, for instance, went more
than 16 years operating under two
By last year, the state's accountability system indicated that schools
were improving overall while the federal system indicated that most of the
state's schools were failing to meet
"Parents were getting a letter sent
to them in the mail saying their school
didn't make adequate yearly progress
[NCLB's yardstick] and then they're
hearing from their principal that we're
getting this letter but just ignore it.
It's just a federal measure," said Rob
Manwaring, a researcher who consulted with California to help merge
its system with NCLB and who now
works as a policy and fiscal adviser for
Children Now, an advocacy group that
argues that the state's new accountability system also doesn't comply
with the federal law.
And as state education departments
are polishing up their report cards for
release next year, officials are still debating how best to display two separate sets of criteria and two rankings
along with the slew of other data that
ESSA and states will require state
departments to report to the public
"Our goal is to make sense out of it
for the public," said Alyssa Pearson,
Colorado's associate commissioner of
accountability, performance, and support. "We're going to use both systems
to direct money for interventions as
best as we can. When you look at it, it's
really a complementary system when
you put them together."
EDUCATION WEEK | June 13, 2018 | www.edweek.org | 17