State ESSA Plans: Uneven Progress Toward Better Assessment and Accountability

for further information:

Dr. Monty Neill    (617) 477-9792

Lisa Guisbond     (617) 959-2371

or Bob Schaeffer (239) 395-6773                                                                                                                       

for immediate release Wednesday, February 7, 2018

STATES SHOW UNEVEN ASSESSMENT REFORM PROGRESS

UNDER NEW U.S. EDUCATION LAW;

STUDY OF INITIAL ESSA PLANS URGES BETTER USE OF FEDERAL “FLEXIBILITY”

TO LEAVE TEST-CENTRIC PUBLIC SCHOOLING BEHIND

 

A just-completed review of the first 16 approved state plans under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) finds that jurisdictions are moving slowly toward adopting the improved school evaluation systems allowed by the new law. “State ESSA Plans: Uneven Progress Toward Better Assessment and Accountability” was released today by the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest).

Among the states FairTest studied, ten have cut back on punitive policies required by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which ESSA replaced. These include firing staff and closing or privatizing schools that post low test scores. But FairTest found that most initial state plans do not include a rich array of indicators to assess school progress, as allowed by the new federal law. Nor do most give non-test indicators sufficient weight in school evaluations. Instead, they continue to define accountability primarily as results from standardized exams.

In addition, most states say they will impose penalties, some potentially severe, on schools that do not test at least 95% of their students, a step not required by ESSA. Though federal law now requires publication of school finance data, state plans either fail to address funding inadequacy or are not concrete about how they will do so.

“States are not taking full advantage of the flexibility allowed by ESSA,” said FairTest Executive Director Monty Neill, the lead author of the report. “However, in states that cut back on punitive accountability, more opportunities exist for districts and schools to move away from test-centric schooling because they are now unlikely to suffer penalties. If flagged for low scores, they will receive help, not punishment.”

Among the FairTest report’s recommendations:

  • States should adopt a rich array of school indicators and minimize the use of test scores.
  • States should drop punitive sanctions and focus on providingassistance to schools needing help.
  • Funding adequacy should be included in needs assessments of schools, and states should commit to concrete plans toprovide adequate resources.
  • States should not add penalties for schools with high opt-out rates.

Neill concluded, “If every state adopted the best practices pioneered by some jurisdictions in their ESSA plans, U.S. public schools could make faster progress toward developing accountability systems that support improved teaching and learning.”

The states whose plans FairTest evaluated are: Arizona, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont.

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The full report is here:  State ESSA Plans: Uneven Progress Toward Better Assessment and Accountability

Part I of the Report: Summary of Findings and Recommendations

Part II of the Report: Findings, Discussion and Analysis of State ESSA Plans

Parts III & IV: Table of State ESSA Plans & List of additional indicators