Regents approve ESSA accountability plan

by Cathy Woodruff

On Board Online • September 18, 2017

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

The Board of Regents approved the state's plan for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) at their September meeting, capping nearly a year of work and completing one last necessary step before the plan is submitted on Sept. 18 for consideration by the U.S. Department of Education.

The final version of the proposed plan, which would replace an accountability system adopted under the federal No Child Left Behind education law, is unchanged from an update that was approved by the Board of Regents in July and sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his required review, according to state education officials.

Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said state officials expect to receive any formal feedback from federal education officials in December and hope to secure final approval of a plan by January or February of 2018.

"We don't have an approved plan until it's approved in Washington," Elia cautioned as she spoke with reporters after the Regents adopted the plan at their meeting on Sept. 11. But if the plan is approved on the state's hoped-for timeline, she said that would clear the way for use of 2017-18 school year data as a "baseline" for comparison with future years to measure the state's progress toward its educational goals.

New York's plan is more than 200 pages long and follows a detailed technical path that states must use to demonstrate their commitment toward improving educational outcomes for students and abide by dictates of the federal education law.

While it reflects continuing federal requirements for regular testing of students in language arts and math, New York's ESSA plan seeks a broader approach to measuring student performance. Science and social studies assessments would join the mix, and revised formulas would place greater weight on student growth and school progress, in addition to academic achievement.

The plan also rests on an expectation that schools that need to improve will have access to the resources that can help them do that, Elia noted.

"We don't want it to be just test scores," Elia said. "With No Child Left Behind, the focus was on test scores, and the focus was on if you got identified (as a poorly performing school). But once you got identified, there was not a lot of focus on what State Ed or any of our partners across the state did to help districts or schools who were identified. They got identified, and the anticipation was that they were just supposed to fix it."

For the first time, New York also is proposing to use two indicators of school climate - student attendance and out-of-school suspension rates - as measures of school quality. A new middle school "success index" to gauge students' readiness for high school is in the plan, too.

Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa described the state's proposed ESSA roadmap as an "action plan" that reflects broad input from communities, teachers and parents. "The Regents and I are committed to ensuring that all students, regardless of background, zip code, first language or disability, get the help they need to succeed and thrive in school," she said.

Along with the ESSA plan, New York will submit three requests for waivers from specific requirements of the federal law.

One, which would continue a so-called "double-testing" waiver already granted to New York under NCLB, relaxes the requirement for seventh- and eighth- grade students taking high school-level math or science classes to also take associated grade level tests in math and science. Their Regents exam results may be used for accountability purposes.

The second waiver request seeks to exclude the results from the first ELA exam taken by a newly arrived (non-English-speaking) student and, instead, use a student's growth between the first and second ELA tests for accountability purposes. The request, which is in line with requirements of state law in New York, would give schools four years, rather than two years, before becoming accountable for newcomer student proficiency on language arts exams administered in English.

A third waiver request, also consistent with New York law, would allow students with significant cognitive and intellectual disabilities to take grades 3-8 tests that are up to two grade levels below their own. New York has previously sought a similar waiver from the federal government and had been denied.

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