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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Education Plans Lack Clarity on Disadvantaged Students, Worst Schools

From U.S. News & World Report

By Lauren Camera
June 27, 2017

A new review of state ed plans finds many need more work.

Many of the state education plans awaiting approval under the new federal
education law need better accountability measures, according to some experts.

States have more work to do when it comes to designing accountability plans that ensure historically disadvantaged students are learning, and that their poorest-performing schools can improve, according to a review of more than a dozen state education proposals by a group of education policy experts.

The new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, gives states new flexibility to create accountability systems that suit their unique needs. Those plans must be vetted and cleared by the Department of Education before they begin implementing them in the near future.

The Collaborative for Student Success and Bellwether Education Partners convened a group of more than 30 peer reviewers, all education policy experts, who analyzed and identified best practices in the first 17 state accountability plans that were submitted to the Education Department in April and May.

“In identifying the strengths and weaknesses of accountability plans that were submitted earlier this year to the U.S. Department of Education, we’ve been able to create what is effectively a best-practices clearinghouse designed to help states move beyond mere compliance with the federal law,” Jim Cowen, executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success, said in a statement.

“This analysis is an invaluable resource to every state,” Cowen said, “because it provides actionable information.”

Overall, the reviewers voiced concerns about state plans not taking into adequate account the academic performance of historically disadvantaged students, including students of color, those with disabilities and those still learning English.

They also reported a lack of clarity on how many poor-performing schools states would identify as needing improvement, or what actions would be required of those schools to be taken off such a list.

“It’s fair to say that just as the scores indicate, there is room for improvement in all of the states,” says Erika McConduit, president and CEO of the Urban League of Louisiana and one of the reviewers. “It’s difficult. That is where the rubber meets the road in terms of making sure you create a plan that serves the needs of all students.”

Moreover, the reviewers noted, goals were often untethered to long-term visions or ignored in the accountability plans.

“Quite frankly, if you look at education throughout the country, it has struggled in this area,” McConduit says. “So looking at innovative and evidence-based strategies is not so easy. We like to use those terms, focusing in on evidence-based strategies, but the problem is that no one is hitting it out of the park.”

Still, the reviewers said they were heartened by many proposals included in the plans, including the fact that every state included some measurement of academic growth in addition to static proficiency markers.

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In addition, reviewers were pleased that states continued 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 schools offer art and physical education.

“Those are in my opinion, evidence of states who want to see the needle move forward,” McConduit says.

That being said, only one state – New Mexico – earned the highest mark in a majority of the nine categories the policy experts reviewed.

Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers – a group that represents state education chiefs across the country and has been helping states go through the process of creating their plans – warned states not to drastically alter their plans based on the independent review.

“Taking feedback is a science in that you can’t necessarily take one set of feedback and make it the way we’re going to go because you’re going to isolate another set of feedback,” he said in a press call Monday. “It’s a delicate balance.”

Minnich also underscored that states have worked in some cases for years to collect stakeholder feedback that’s formed the basis of their accountability plans.

And that feedback shouldn’t be negated, he said.

“Having a review is really helpful,” he said. “But it shouldn’t be the only feedback driving the conversation.”

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