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January 18, 2017 Practice Points

How Do You Implement the Every Student Succeeds Act?

By Jessalyn Schwartz

In January, the Department of Education issued guidance on three areas of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law in December 2015. The reports provide information on development of Consolidated State Plans, issuance of State and Local Report Cards, and measurement and reporting of Graduation Rate data.

The Consolidated State Plan Guidance publication aims to assist State Education Agencies (SEA) to develop plans, subject to peer review, and to guide peer reviewers in their assessments of these plans. The report discusses setting long-term goals for all students as a whole, as well as for subgroups of the student population, such as racial and ethnic groups, students with disabilities, and English language learners.  Plans must include attainment strategies and means of measuring progress, for both four-year and extended year graduation programs. The plans must further include public notice requirements for procedures for development and adoption of the plan, with clear information as to how community outreach was performed and stakeholder input was solicited and utilized. The SEA must describe activity development and approval for Local Education Agency (LEA) plans and how it monitors, implements and uses data from LEAs to improve student outcomes and program outcomes. Plans must feature Academic Assessments on advanced mathematics and languages other than English that are prevalent in the state's student population. The Consolidated State Plan Guidance provides Accountability, Support, and Improvement measures for the Academic Achievement Indicator, the Graduation Rate Indicator, the School Quality/Student Success Indicator, and the Achieving ELP Indicator. Further information lays out program specific requirements and focuses on ways the plans should be developed to support students and educators.

The second publication, State and Local Report Card Non-Regulatory Guidance, was created to aid SEAs and LEAs in implementing report card requirements under Title I, Part A and regulations under 34 C.F.R. §§ 200.30 to 200.37. SEAs and LEAs are also welcome to develop alternative approaches and formats, as long as they meet Federal requirements. Annual report cards must be disseminated by state and local agencies with information related to student and school performance measures, expenditures, accountability, and educator qualifications, including both an overview and detail section. These report cards must be posted annually on or before December 31 of the preceding school year, and this Guidance gives information as to the consequences of failure to comply. Report cards must be clear, understandable, uniform, and accessible to the public. The DOE report provides a useful table with categorized report card requirements with citations and an index of topics within the publication. Report cards must include description of and results from the accountability system, student achievement figures on academic assessments, charter school data, high school graduation rates, educator qualifications, and progress on long-term goals, among other information. The Guidance provides a sample report card, a demonstration of how to show per pupil expenditures, and report card checklists with detailed charts of necessary information.

The Graduation Rate Non-Regulatory Guidance seeks to assist with implementation of the graduation rate under the ESSA. The DOE report highlights the importance of a clear and accurate measure of the four-year high school graduation rate that can be easily compared across states consistently. This uniformity promotes accountability and rewards student and school success, helping to close achievement gaps and provide opportunity for all students. The Guidance clarifies definitions used in the ESSA, such as the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR), and the difference between the four-year ACGR and extended year ACGR. The report also discusses requirements for calculations and how adjustments to the graduation data may be made, for example, if a student moves, is incarcerated, or transfers between graduation paths. The DOE provides information on common issues to implementation and reporting, including when to report changes, how to break down subgroups of the student population, and how to incorporate data into the accountability system.

Jessalyn Schwartz is an attorney in Boston focusing on child welfare and mental health law.

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