ESSA: What teachers, parents need to know
You probably have heard it bandied about before – the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). At least conceptually. But the beginning of this school year, the tires hit the pavement: the state’s ESSA plan is now in effect.
For some, the impact of the new federal accountability system will be substantial. But for most, ESSA’s effect on educators’ day-to-day work will be negligible.
That’s because the plan builds on the work already done in the state over the last six years.
“ESSA enables us to continue our emphasis on the approaches that will positively affect student learning,” said Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise. “And those include our work around early literacy, teacher leadership, and Differentiated Accountability, which ensures that schools that need support get it when they need it in a way that is useful to them.”
The former federal accountability system, No Child Left Behind, was narrowly tailored to student performance on statewide assessments in reading and math, with a particular focus on proficiency.
ESSA, however, has a much broader focus. While proficiency is still a part of ESSA, the new accountability system has a much greater focus on student growth as well as measures that go beyond statewide assessments.
One measurement is Conditions for Learning (CfL), which is a student survey that looks at student engagement, safety, culture and climate. The first survey was taken last spring.
‘We know that the learning environment has a huge impact on student learning and achievement,” Wise said. “This will be valuable data for schools to have to create a safe and welcoming learning environment for their students. When students feel valued, safe and engaged in their learning, they are set up to be successful. They will be more receptive to the content put in front of them.
“I think this measure could be eye opening for many. Some schools haven’t gathered the data before. For some schools it will be an opportunity to look at important measures that impact students’ day-to-day lives in schools.”
Proficiency, CfL and a host of other measurements, will be put into the ESSA Report Card, scheduled to come out late this fall. Although the state has its own State Report Card as required by the Legislature, the two report cards are eventually going to be merged into one, which will satisfy both federal and state requirements.
The ESSA Report Card will be used to identify schools that will be provided with targeted or comprehensive support, and those schools will receive help from the state. If a school is classified as “comprehensive,” it means that its state assessment score falls in the lowest 5 percent of schools in Iowa. All schools classified as “comprehensive” will go through a comprehensive process called Differentiated Accountability, in which school personnel and members of the Iowa Department of Education and Area Education Agencies work in collaboration to resolve issues with which they are struggling.
A “targeted” classification means that a subgroup of students – for example, students whose native language isn’t English or students with Individualized Education Programs – is underperforming. A targeted school will receive targeted support through regional training and coaching provided primarily by Iowa’s AEAs and Department staff.
“As we work to identify schools in need of comprehensive and targeted work, we are also identifying means of helping the students,” Wise said. “They can expect a lot of support. That is the emphasis of ESSA: How do we take an approach to school improvement that is not focused on top-down, narrow approaches, but based on building capacity in schools to build student learning?”
Other changes prompted by ESSA requirements include a consolidated application for various federal title funding streams (there used to be many), as well as a federal requirement that each district report expenditures of federal, state and local funds for each of its schools.
“We have been talking about ESSA for two-and-a-half years,” Wise said. “The work begins in earnest now."