The “Every Student Succeeds Act” gives power and decision making back to the states
Iowa’s Department of Education submitted The “Every Student Succeeds Act,” for Federal approval on Sept. 18. The Federal Government has 120 days post-submission to approve or deny Iowa’s newly proposed plan.
The ESSA replaces The “No Child Left Behind Act,” signed by former President Obama during his first term; this plan promises more power to the state and schools to set individual goals, accountability practices and support systems.
“The title of the act means improving the student achievement of the disadvantaged,” said Jay Pennington, chief of the bureau of information and analysis of information and analysis services for Iowa department of education.
Replacing “No Child Left Behind”
“The biggest criticism of ‘No Child Left Behind’ was that it mandated 100 percent proficiency on assessments by 2014 — and no state met that,” said Staci Hupp, chief of the bureau of communications and information services for the Iowa department of education.
Hupp said while of course that is the ideal, when schools are being sanctioned for not meeting unreachable Federal standards the system just runs itself in circles.
“Our plan is focused on growth,” Hupp added. “Our students come to school with different starting points, so it’s about making progress with each individual. ‘No Child Left Behind’ didn’t acknowledge the growth that was being made within student groups.”
Hupp provided an example, saying if a subgroup performing under the state proficiency standard increased from 20 to 40 percent in two years, ‘No Child Left Behind’ wouldn’t have applauded that since it is still underperformance, whereas ESSA will recognize the growth and provide necessary support measures needed to continue improvements.
ESSA identifies and supports struggling schools as opposed to punishing them for not meeting standards as a part of the state’s newly written accountability plan.
Akin to the “No Child Left Behind Act,” schools will still have to submit a specific improvement plan, but they will be offered support along the way instead of being sanctioned if unable to hit benchmarks.
This identification process for struggling schools happens every three years. The schools are given one year to write an improvement plan and then two years to implement it with the help of Iowa Department of Education.
The state of Iowa is currently operating under their Unified Differentiated Accountability program, which has three interconnected components: a Universal Desk Audit, Identification of Schools, and Support Systems, said Hupp. Schools are required to go through this process under Federal law and it has been in place in Iowa for two years.
The accountability plan goes beyond just providing support for schools — it also outlines support for both students and Iowa educators.
“Students get the benefit of available supports regardless of whether or not the school is identified through ESSA,” Pennington said.
Teacher support is provided heavily through the “Teacher Leadership and Compensation Program” Iowa has. Every school puts top performing teachers into leadership roles such as educational coaches or mentor teachers, where they can use their knowledge and skills to better prepare other teachers in potentially lower performing districts.
The plan promises to hold students to high standards by measuring reading and math proficiency levels. Hupp said the Department of Education is also cognizant of every student’s academic and social backgrounds in relation to test scores.
ESSA requires each state to submit a plan detailing their long-term goals for proficiency in reading and math. Iowa bases these off of the Iowa Assessment tests, which are administered to all students once a year in the spring.
Hupp shared that the state has standard benchmarks set that must be met each year. The standards are in place from early education to kindergarten through twelfth grade.
The standards are looking to expand to the arts and computer science in future years, as well.
Prior to ESSA, the state of Iowa had already, “developed a comprehensive early literacy initiative to ensure all students read proficiently by the end of third grade,” said the Director of Iowa Department of Education Ryan Wise in the written forward of ESSA’s Final Plan.
The goal outlined in the ESSA is for all students to increase proficiency rates by half a percentage point each year, over five years, and to have each student subgroup increase one percentage point each year over five years. These numbers are subject to change once the students take the Iowa Assessments again in Spring 2018.
To make attainable but achievable proficiency goals, Pennington said the department looked through the “history” of past assessment results.
Subgroups that Hupp identified include minority students, English learners, students with disabilities and students who are eligible for free and reduced priced lunch.
“For those subgroups who are far behind (the average), we challenge them to improve five percent over five years,” Pennington said. “History shows we haven’t done it yet.”
“The best goals are both ambitious and realistic,” Hupp added. “That’s why our statewide ESSA plan set such aggressive targets for student subgroups.”
Formulating the ESSA
Hupp said when creating this plan, they didn’t want to lose focus of Iowa’s context.
Staying true to that statement, the Iowa Department of Education held 18 forums and eight focus groups over the past 2016-17 year along with three surveys to understand what Iowans were looking for in a new education plan.
For a more detailed understanding of Iowa’s ESSA plan, it can be found here: https://www.educateiowa.gov/sites/files/ed/documents/ESSAPlan9-18-2017.pdf