Why dumping the ESSA regs is not a big deal; and what is
There has been an unnecessary amount of angst and ink spilled on the blogs and elsewhere over the fact that Congress has voted on eliminating the ESSA regulations on accountability. It bears repeating that the law itself -- the Every Student Succeeds Act -- still exists in force and is quite prescriptive, for good or for ill only now just a little bit less so. Every state must still give standardized exams annually to students in every in grades 3-8 and once in high school; must evaluate and rate schools mainly on the results of those exams plus graduation rates; and must intercede in schools rated in the lowest 5 percent. The fact that the regulations were ditched by Congress changes very little. What this instead has done is give schools a little more flexibility in deciding what to do with schools with high opt out rates, which is a good thing in my view.
The Obama administration wanted schools to take the testing participation requirement in the law seriously, so that states, districts, and educators could have data on how English-learners and students in special education were doing relative to their peers. So it used the now-dead-in-the-water regulations to call for states to take pretty dramatic actions for schools that didn't meet the 95 percent threshold. The choices laid out in the regs included lowering the school's overall rating or putting it on a list of schools deemed in need of improvement. The Obama regulations also allowed states to use their judgement, putting in harsher penalties for a school that had a really high opt-out rate vs. one that didn't quite hit the 95 percent participation threshold. Some Republicans, including Alexander, thought this went beyond the bounds of the law.Now that the regs are being killed? We go back to ESSA, as it was written originally. Schools still must test 95 of their kids. But their state gets to decide what happens if they don't meet that target.
What this piece doesn’t mention is that the law still requires that in every state’s accountability system, at least 95% of the students in each testing grade must be included in the denominator of the academic indicator for each school, whether they took the test or not. Unfortunately, this language was incorporated into the law, even though it appeared to contradict other sections of ESSA, including that the Secretary of Education is prohibited from telling a state how school participation rates will be factored into its accountability system and cannot punish states that allow kids to opt out of exams.
What this seemingly technical but very damaging requirement would seem to do is to force states to label schools with high opt out rates as NYC Public School Parents: Why dumping the ESSA regs is not a big deal; and what is: