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Schneider’s ESSA Digest, Part II (Pages 47 – 90)

December 28, 2015

I am in the process of carefully reading the 1,061-page Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the December 10, 2015, reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), and writing a series of posts that will form a digest of those 1,061 pages.

As previously noted, it will take me some time to read and comment on the entire document.

My first entry covers the first 47 pages.

This entry continues by adding info from pages 47 to 90.

Sometimes I refer to pages beyond page 90, and sometimes, I alter the format of quoted excerpts for ease of reading. Sometimes I comment, and sometimes I just summarize.

Here we go.

Pages 47-48: In applying for ESSA Title I funds, each state need not show its “challenging academic standards” in English language arts (ELA), math, and science, and to the US secretary of education; states only need to provide an “assurance” of such standards. States applying for Title I money must also “assure” the US secretary of education that those “challenging academic standards” are tied to a system of measuring “achievement” consisting of at least three achievement levels.

The “challenging academic standards” and associated achievement levels must apply to all students except for “alternate academic achievement standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities” (page 49).

Other sets of standards or modifications to existing standards are prohibited (page 50).

States applying for Title I funds must also show that they have adopted English language proficiency standards for English language learners (page 51).

Page 51 also includes limits on the US secretary regarding approval of state standards:

(i) STANDARDS REVIEW OR APPROVAL.—A State shall not be required to submit any standards developed under this subsection to the Secretary for review or approval.
(ii) FEDERAL CONTROL.—The Secretary shall not have the authority to mandate, direct, control, coerce, or exercise any direction or supervision over any of the challenging State academic standards adopted or implemented by a State.

Then come the assessments (page 52). States must test ELA and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, and science, once in grades 3 through 5, once in grades 6 through 9, and once in grades 10 through 12 (page 54).

It is clear that in ESSA, the federal government expects states to administer standardized tests but will allow that such mandated assessment “may be partially delivered in the form of portfolios, projects, or extended performance tasks” (page 54). ESSA does not set a percentage of required standardized tests or percentage related to the term “partially delivered” as it concerns “portfolios, projects, or extended learning tasks.”

The state must provide for special education students “appropriate accommodations…necessary to measure the academic achievement of such children relative to the challenging State academic standards or alternate academic achievement standards,” including such students “with the most significant cognitive disabilities.”

English language learners “shall be assessed in a valid and reliable manner and provided appropriate accommodations… to the extent practicable, assessments in the language and form most likely to yield accurate data on what such students know and can do in academic content areas, until such students have achieved English language proficiency” (pages 55-56).

School districts are allowed to administer assessments tied to Title I funding to English language learners in a student’s native language for not more than 2 years “provided that such student has not yet reached a level of English language proficiency sufficient to yield valid and reliable information on what such student knows and can do on tests (written in English) of reading or language arts” (page 57).

Reports of Title-I-mandated student achievement results are supposed to be useful, to “allow parents, teachers, principals, and
other school leaders to understand and address the specific academic needs of students, and that are provided to parents, teachers, and school leaders, as soon as is practicable after the assessment is given, in an understandable and uniform format, and to the extent practicable, in a language that parents can understand” (pages 57-58).

As it relates to standardized testing informing instruction, the above language is not grounded in classroom reality; standardized testing is not as precise as teacher-created assessments, nor are the results often as readily available. However, ESSA allows a state to incorporate into its Title I plan other types of assessment beyond standardized tests. These other assessments could prove more useful in informing instruction. As is true for much of ESSA, it is a matter of what course a state decides to take.

Results need to be disaggregated for each state, district, and school, by “each major racial and ethnic group; economically disadvantaged
students as compared to students who are not economically disadvantaged; children with disabilities as compared to children without disabilities; English proficiency status; gender; and migrant status” (page 58). The only exceptions are if the subgroup numbers are too small to be statistically analyzed or could be traced to individual students.

Assessment information is supposed to be reported on each item such that “parents, teachers, principals, other school leaders, and administrators can interpret and address the specific academic needs of students as indicated by the students’ achievement on assessment items” (page 59).

This itemized reporting will produce volumes of information that likely amounts to little more than an overwhelming, bureaucratic burden on teachers and schools; that is too much to process even if produced in a timely fashion, and that appears to assume that each and every test item is flawless in what it purports to measure.

Students “with the most severe cognitive disabilities” may take alternative assessments “aligned with the challenging State academic standards and alternate academic achievement
standards” (page 61) if “the total number of students assessed in
such subject using the alternate assessments does not exceed 1 percent of the total number of all students in the State who are assessed in such subject” (page 61). The states are supposed to “increase the number of students with significant cognitive disabilities” participating in the Title-I-mandated assessments via use of “appropriate accommodations” (page 63).

Page 64 includes a “special rule” that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) team is supposed to determine which students are under the alternative standards and alternative assessments. Too, there is the “prohibition on local cap” disclaimer that neither the US secretary of education nor the state is to impose a 1-percent-alternative-assessment cap on districts. If districts need to exceed the 1 percent, they need to notify states and justify the need to do so.

And states are to “provide appropriate oversight” to districts that report a need to exceed the 1-percent, alternative-assessment state-cap.

Now, nothing in this “prohibition of local cap” notes that states can exceed the 1 percent cap– just that individual districts cannot be held to the 1-percent cap by the US secretary or the state.

In essence, the top (the federal government) wants to appear to not be delivering a mandate to the bottom (the district); so, it puts pressure on the middle (the state) to make the bottom seem to be free of the mandate even as the middle must deliver on the mandate to the top.

That noted, in the end, a state may request a waiver of the 1-percent alternative-assessment state cap by writing to the US secretary of education and asking for such a waiver (see page 65 and pages 815-826).

Yes, ESSA still has waivers– not the coercive, conditional waivers that former US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan used for No Child Left Behind (NCLB)– but waivers that allow the US secretary of education to exempt states from certain ESSA requirements. More to come on these waivers in future posts.

Pages 66 and 67 include an interesting statement to the effect that if for some reason, the state is not itself authorized to adopt “challenging academic standards,” then it must make sure that policies are in place to ensure that districts have done so before the state doles out Title I funds OR the state must adopt such standards and have them apply to students served by Title I funds.

A state may ask the US secretary for assistance in identifying “linguistically accessible academic assessment measures… in needed languages” (page 67) for subpopulations of non-native English speaking students. However, the US secretary “shall not mandate a specific academic assessment or mode of instruction” (page 68).

Pages 68 – 72 involve districts selecting Title I high school assessments and getting such approved by the state. Such district-selected, state-approved high school assessments must be “nationally recognized,” and the district must provide evidence that the assessment is tied to the “challenging academic standards,” and the results must be disaggregated by the previously-noted student subgroupings.

In short, the purpose of the above section caters to the ACT or SAT being substituted for the likes of the high-school-level PARCC or SBAC tests.

If a state receives less than $369,100,000 in a given a year in Title I funds earmarked for the mandated Title I assessments, then for that year, a state “may defer the commencement, or suspend the administration, but not cease the development” of the assessment (page 73).

If states want to use computer-adaptive assessments, the feds will allow it, even for students “with the most significant cognitive disabilities and English learners” (pages 74-76).

Now, this one I love:

(K) RULE OF CONSTRUCTION ON PARENT RIGHTS—Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed as preempting a State or local law regarding the decision of a parent to not have the parent’s child participate in the academic assessments under this paragraph (page 76).

The language of ESSA obligates states receiving Title I money to test 95 percent of all students in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school in ELA and math, and three times from grades 3 through 12 in science. But the feds try to exonerate themselves by saying that their stringent, exacting conditions should not “preempt” any state or district actions for or against parental rights to opt out of testing.

Of course states taking Title I money will want to meet that federally-mandated 95 percent and are therefore realistically pressured into officially and formally coercing parents to have their children participate in the federally-required testing.

Page 76 also includes the allowance that states set limitations on the aggregate amount of time that students spend actually completing the federally-mandated Title I assessments– but such assessment-time limitations are “subject to Federal or State requirements related to assessments, evaluations, and accommodations.”

The above qualifier prevents a state receiving Title I funds from passing legislation that limits testing time to next to none.

ESSA allows for limited exception from annual testing for English language learners who have been students in the United States for less than 12 months. In short, these students can be excused from one year of Title I ELA testing and from the state accountability system OR they can be tested that first year but their results not used in state accountability (see pages 77-78).

Next we have the state accountability system. It has to be based on a state’s “challenging academic standards” in ELA and math. “At a minimum,” the state accountability plan must include “academic achievement, as measured by proficiency on the annual assessments [in ELA and math]” and high school graduation rates (page 81). States are expected to also account for “the improvement necessary on such measures to make significant progress in closing statewide proficiency and graduation rate gaps” and “increases in the percentage of such students making progress in achieving English language proficiency” (page 82).

School accountability is also expected to include “For all public schools in the State, not less than one indicator of school quality or student success that— allows for meaningful differentiation in school performance; is valid, reliable, comparable, and statewide (with the same indicator or indicators used for each grade span” (page 85).

Of course, a major flaw in the “reliable and valid” argument is that student standardized tests are not designed to grade schools (or teachers). I challenge states to convince any testing company to put in writing that its assessments are valid for grading schools (and teachers) and that the assessment company has empirical evidence to back such a claim. It won’t happen.

The state accountability system must include some means of identifying “any such school in which any subgroup of students is consistently underperforming” (page 86).

Each state must have an accountability category for schools in need of improvement:

…Establish a State-determined methodology to identify—
beginning with school year 2017–2018, and at least once every three school years thereafter, one statewide category of schools for comprehensive support and improvement… which shall include— not less than the lowest-performing 5 percent of all schools receiving funds under this part in the State; all public high schools in the State failing to graduate one third or more of their students… (page 87).

Now for the 95-percent assessment lock-in language that makes the rule of construction of parent rights on page 76 into a practical joke:


(i) Annually measure the achievement of not less than 95 percent of all students, and 95 percent of all students in each subgroup of students, who are enrolled in public schools on the [required ELA and math] assessments [in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school].

(ii) For the purpose of measuring, calculating, and reporting on the indicator [of academic achievement], include in the denominator the greater of—

(I) 95 percent of all such students, or 95 percent of all such students in the subgroup, as the case may be; or
(II) the number of students participating in the assessments.

(iii) Provide a clear and understandable explanation of how the State will factor the requirement of clause (i) of this subparagraph into the statewide accountability system. (pages 88-89)

Page 89 also notes that the assessment for a student who does not attend a school for more than half of a school year is not to contribute to the grading (i.e., “meaningful differentiation”) of that school.

ESSA-detailed, Title-I-associated school accountability gets interesting for a high school student who attends a school for less than half a year and then drops out. The state may either include such a student as a drop out of the school that the student mostly attended for grades 9 through 12, or to the last school at which the student was enrolled.

Just put ’em somewhere. Very scientific.

As for charter school accountability: “The accountability provisions under this Act shall be overseen for charter schools in accordance with State charter school law” (page 90).

This brings us to “accountability” details on the group of schools that the state accountability system identifies as “in need of improvement” (page 90).

I’ll save it for the next installment.



Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published in June 2015.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. We have a little bit more to raise if we want an index for Mercedes’ next book on Charter Schools. We funded her blog for next year for Christmas, let’s give Mercedes a nice New Years gift of a paid for index!

  2. So lets say only 90% of students in grade 8 took the tests. Does 95% *have to be used* as the denominator because ESSA says ” the greater of” ?

  3. Is the entire ESEA compiled into one current addition anywhere. Much of the act reauthorization is written in a strike and replace manner, but I have not found a place where this compilation is has been put into on document or set of coherent documents.

  4. Christine Langhoff permalink

    It has recently been revealed that children of the city of Flint, Michigan have been poisoned with lead by the water provided by the city to its residents. Of course, lead poisoning leads to cognitive and developmental delays in children. Anyone want to lay bets as to whether there might be a waiver to the requirement that no more than 1% of Flint’s children be classified as SWD’s?

    Ah, but silly me! The efforts to chartetize Flint’s schools are well underway!

    Heck of a way to spend your winter break, Mercedes.

  5. amerigus permalink

    With the 1% cap on alternative assessment, is the federal government saying states can choose a small percentage to exclude from tests, but leaving the criteria to them? What if a state has 2% of kids that require them? Will states decide who wins and loses by lottery? First come first serve? Patronage?

    Was the 1% based on any research, like this is the average proportion of severely cognitively impaired kids around the states?

    • Laura H. Chapman permalink

      There is in my file a recent report that 2% of students in IDEA have severe cognitive problems, often with other problems as well. So Congress is just sticking to a percentage that is, by design, is not an evidence-based percentage. I am also looking at ESSA. I put it into word so I can color code and search and take other steps to make sense of the legalese. Mercedes is doing a great job of discerning how the double speak still keeps a lot of approvals with the Secretary of Education, and dumps responsibilities on states and districts that cannot be met. Condradictions are abundant. I am concentrating on Title II which does a demolition derby on teacher preparation, existing acceditations of programs, pours money into charter academies of teacher prep with the governor the person in charge of setting up the entities that will induct new teachers. Title II is also big on pay for performance and comprehensive human capital management, the white papers from the likes of McKinsey & Co. and Boston Consulting embedded in ESSA and with incentives for scaling up existing plans and programs. Noteworthy throughout is the phrase “meaningful discrimination” in connection with a ton of references to assessments, measures, effective and so on. Bottom line the retention of multiple ways of stack ranking.

  6. Jill Reifschneider permalink

    Thank you. As always, enlightening and thought-provoking.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Schneider’s ESSA Digest, Part III (Pages 90 – 105) | deutsch29
  2. Schneider’s ESSA Digest, Part IV (Switching Documents) | deutsch29
  3. The Retroactive Lowering of the GED Cut Score | deutsch29
  4. The Retroactive Lowering of the GED Cut Score | Vus Times
  5. The Retroactive Lowering of the GED Cut Score | VollNews

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