State release draft plan for Every Student Succeeds Act

The chance to comment on enacting provisions of the new Every Student Succeeds Act ends at a Sept. 15 deadline, a month after the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development put its draft plan out for review.

The state Education Department will also make a major announcement Sept. 1 on statewide assessment results from the spring 2017 exam.

The individual test results were sent to parents on Aug. 3, but the announcement Sept. 1 will be the first look at how well students did by district as the department sought to retool its assessment of students’ proficiency in math, English and science. The new tool, PEAKS, stands for Performance Evaluation for Alaska’s Schools and is used to target overall performance.

Alaska educators are moving into the new requirements under Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaces the old No Child Left Behind Act. According to the executive summary of Alaska’s ESSA plan draft, it allows more flexibility and authority to schools. But it also, like the NCLB, requires states to develop plans that address standards, assessments (such as PEAKS), school and district accountability.

According to the ESSA draft summary:

• States may design an overall accountability system based on multiple indicators for all schools, rather than a system where a school with one subgroup that misses a target for academic achievement is determined to not make adequate yearly progress.

• States may include one or more indicators of school quality and student success.

• States may set their own long-term goals and measures of interim progress in academic achievement and graduation rates, rather than expecting 100 percent proficiency or graduation rates.

• States have some flexibility in how to designate schools needing the most support.

• States have more flexibility in determining appropriate consequences and supports for those schools needing support.

Nevertheless it’s a time of confusion for how that plays out in the classroom, said National Education Association-Alaska Chapter President Tim Parker. Under the NCLB Act, too much emphasis was placed on testing, which robbed schools of learning time.

“With ESSA, most educators are not super familiar with the details of the law,” Parker said. “They understand the concepts—testing, accountability, and equity—but they don’t know precisely how the federal government will implement these concepts.”

ESSA was signed into federal law on Dec. 10, 2015. The Education Department has worked for the past two years on the public process of drafting its plan.

The final draft was submitted to Gov. Bill Walker’s office for a 30-day review period Aug. 17 before the submission deadline, as required in the law. States must submit plans to the U.S. Department of Education by Sept. 18, to show how they will implement ESSA.

Alaska’s state plan for ESSA was formed after a year’s worth of stakeholder input and discussions.

The plan, an executive summary, and feedback form are available at education.alaska.gov.

Parker, speaking for NEA-Alaska and the 13,000 members around the state, said he likes certain aspects of the new act.

“Yet, we are concerned that limits will be put on schools about which potential improvements will meet the new law,” he wrote in an email. “Even though ESSA is supposed to allow for communities to make choices and not have solutions dictated from Washington, D.C., or Juneau, many school districts will likely be reluctant to propose creative and innovative solutions that fit their communities out of fear that they will be rejected. This is the legacy of NCLB.”

There was plenty of complaint about how the No Child Left Behind Act didn’t fit Alaska’s education system, Commissioner Michael Johnson has acknowledged. That’s why a fresh look, through ESSA, has met with statewide enthusiasm as work groups bite off chunks to work on. He also promises to take teachers’ ideas for success and give them a broader base through his Alaska Education Challenge.

Yet, much of the testimony so far on the ESSA plan addresses how schools are scored.

The accountability indicator, for example, allows schools to receive a score from 0 to 100 on an index. K-8 grades are awarded points based on achievement in English language arts, or ELA, and math, and points for growth in ELA and math. That’s important because it measures improvement, according to the report.

Grades 9-12 are scored as a school on achievement in ELA and math, but there isn’t a score for improvement between years. Those schools are scored on their graduation rates.

To ease teachers’ concerns as he visits school districts this month, Parker said he’s addressed the ESSA questions in quite a few discussions. One reminder he gives is that tests aren’t meant as a sole indicator for evaluating a student or teacher or school.

“They are used to figure out the quality of your system at the 30,000-foot level,” Parker said.

Testing took on a greater importance during the NCLB.

“Tests were used in a way not intended,” he said. “Under NCLB, they were sometimes used to test individuals students, individual teachers and individual schools. And tests are not very good for that.”

Parker visited Metlakatla schools last week and gave the high school as an example. Metlakatla High reached a 100 percent graduation rates this year with 90 students, an accomplishment many schools would likely envy. That is one of four primary measures of the new ESSA plan, and he makes the point it covers a lot of territory on a school that’s doing things right.

Alaska’s overall graduation rate has hovered at 70 percent between 2013-2016. A study at the University of Alaska level found that 52 percent of high school graduates need remedial education in math, English, or both, when they reach the UA system.

One real success test is whether high school has prepared students to move on to college success and vocational/technical programs, Parker said.

“One of the Metlakatla graduates was accepted at Dartmouth University; another one to Stanford. Others were accepted at vocational-technical programs,” Parker said. “That’s a measure as a school we sit down and look at that the end of the year.”

NEA-Alaska members were able to impact the ESSA plan, Parker noted. Thanks to more than 200 comments from members submitted last spring, certain concerns were addressed.

The definition for “ineffective teacher” was narrowed, and is no longer based on the number of days a teacher misses during the school year, he said.

“In other good news, the new draft plan includes provisions for mentoring and teacher leadership. While we would have liked to see an even wider selection of school quality and student success indicators in the plan, we also understand DEED’s choice of three success indicators, and think this draft plan is a step in the right direction,” Parker wrote.

“As educators, we remain concerned that test scores are overemphasized even in this latest draft ESSA plan,” he warned. “An overreliance on test scores — especially if the tests themselves are weak — drives schools to limit curricular offerings and put time and resources into test prep instead of real learning opportunities for students.”

Naomi Klouda can be reached at naomi.klouda@alaskajournal.com

Updated: 
08/30/2017 - 11:42am

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