New Education State Plans Receive Mixed Reviews

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Erika McConduit, the president and CEO of the Urban League of Louisiana expressed concerns about ESSA state plans that she reviewed with a group of education policy experts. (Urban League of Louisiana)

By Stacy M. Brown (NNPA Newswire Contributor)

Education policy experts have expressed serious concerns about some of the state plans submitted under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law in December 2015. The law replaces the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act; states will begin implementing ESSA in the fall.

Erika McConduit, the president and CEO of the Urban League of Louisiana, said that some ESSA state plans have failed to take into account the academic performance of historically disadvantaged students.

There’s also a lack of clarity on how many poor-performing schools would be identified as needing improvement, or what actions would be required to show they’ve improved, said McConduit, who served as one of the policy experts that recently reviewed more than a dozen state education proposals that were submitted to the Department of Education.

“While [we] do believe that states obviously have a vested interest in wanting to advance the outcomes of students, there is cause for concern when it comes to accountability,” McConduit said.

Federal oversight has always provided a layer of accountability, ensuring there are checks and balances; those protections may no longer be available under some of the plans that been reviewed, which worries education advocates, like McConduit.

McConduit, who earned a mass communications degree from Howard University and a law degree from Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, said that as states transition from NCLB to ESSA, education advocates don’t want to lose any ground that has been gained in closing the achievement gap between Black and White students.

Recently, McConduit worked with a group of education policy experts organized by the Collaborative for Student Success and Bellwether Education Partners to review state accountability plans.

The Howard University graduate also took part in the Education Trust’s “ESSA Boot Camp II: Advocating for Equity and Achievement in ESSA Implementation,” which focused on rating systems for schools, and support and improvement for struggling schools.

McConduit said that it’s difficult to say that ESSA will be successful across the board.

“What we have seen in the peer review process—not all states have submitted and we’re looking at a fraction so far—some [state officials] have really focused on designing [good] plans,” she said. “We’ve also been disappointed with some states who really did not resolve critical details in advance of submitting their plans.”

As a reviewer and a leader of a civil rights organization, McConduit said that she worked deeply on Louisiana’s plan, making sure that certain components were included. McConduit said that she was disappointed to see how some states did not move to flesh out thorough plans.

“We know there are gaps, historic gaps, where there have always been groups of students left out of the mainstream,” McConduit said.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) ESSA requires, “each state to create a plan for its statewide accountability system. In particular, ESSA calls for state plans that include strategies for reporting education outcomes by grade for all students and for economically disadvantaged students, students from major racial and ethnic groups, students with disabilities, and English learners.”

NCES also said that, “states must specify a single value for the minimum number of students needed to provide statistically sound data for all students and for each subgroup, while protecting personally identifiable information (PII) of individual students. This value is often referred to as the ‘minimum n-size.’”

The selection of smaller minimum n-sizes would ensure that more students’ outcomes are included in a state’s accountability system, but smaller n-sizes can also increase the likelihood of the inadvertent disclosure of personally identifiable information, education officials said.

“I’m cautious about these larger n-sizes,” McConduit said. “Our goal is to makes sure all these students are counted.”

McConduit noted that she was heartened by the fact that states continue to place a strong weight on academics, while also including new measures of school quality, like the number of students taking Advanced Placement courses and college entrance exams, students earning industry certifications, and whether or not schools offer art and physical education.

McConduit said that those measures are “evidence of states, who want to see the needle move forward.”

Learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) at nnpa.org/essa.