ESSA: Every student succeeds

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As I See It

By Elpidio R. Estioko

There is a law in education which states that every student needs to succeed, so every state must comply and devise ways for students to excel. Measured student success is a resource for local administrators to be able to project school and state goals. As a national resource, however, it may have to be re-assessed considering that the way student progress is measured, it is calculated in different methods on the state level. Every state has a way of measuring progress and what we need is one that is uniform, so we can evaluate success on a nationwide scale, especially for the Department of Education (DOE) to use in its various projects.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) uses one –time test score to describe growth of students, but I learned they’re using different methods to calculate it, which makes the approach difficult to compare across states. It would be more effective if there is a uniform method in calculating student success nationwide!

This is an original bill that reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to ensure that every child achieves. This also repealed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA). It was signed into law by then US President Barack Obama in December 2015 that encompasses the United States K–12 public education policy.

The ESSA, which assumes the US federal government’s role in elementary and secondary education since the 1980s, retains the distinguishing characteristics of the annual standardized testing requirements of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act but shifts the law’s federal accountability provisions to the states. It gives more control to the states and school districts in determining the standards students are accountable of. The Department of Education (DOE) requires the states to submit their goals and standards and how they plan to achieve them. Students will then be tested each year from third through eighth grade and then once again their junior year of high school and then an assessment of student progress is conducted.

Another fundamental goal of the ESSA is preparing all students, regardless of race, income, disability, ethnicity, or proficiency in English, for a successful college experience and fulfilling career. In addition, ESSA also sets new mandates on expectations and requirements for students with disabilities and also addresses bullying in schools. Most students with disabilities, however, will be required to take the same assessments and will be held to the same standards as other students. Only one percent of students, accounting for ten percent of students with disabilities, could be excused from the usual standardized testing because there is not enough staff available to administer the assessments to the students one-on-one. There is dearth of teachers nationwide which explains the limitation.

With the passage of the law, parents, educators, and elected officials across the country recognized that a strong, updated law was necessary to expand opportunity to all students; support schools, teachers, and principals; and to strengthen our education system and economy. This is the mandated role of ESSA, supposedly a more expanded law from that of Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and the No Child Left behind Act (NCLBA).

The Journal author Dian Schaffhauser, in her article “Report: Every State Now Measures Student Progress in Its Own fashion”, said under the ESSA, 48 states have signed to measure student academic progress. This type of approach goes beyond the previously used one-time test score comparison.

This, however, is not that good because every single participating state does it their own way… no uniform method used. As a result, according to a new report from the Data Quality Campaign (DQC), these student growth measures “are not created equal.” While the states may use the same term — “growth” — to describe what they’re doing, they’re using different methods to calculate it, the report says.

As the report explained, “local leaders select indicators based on the questions they want to answer, what their state goals are, their capacity, the cost, the ease of implementation and the feedback they receive from stakeholders. They also decide how to calculate growth, summarize and interpret it. As a result of these many differences, growth data can’t be used to make comparisons across states, and people who want to consume that data need to be able to understand just what’s being communicated”. This is where the problem lies: no uniform method to calculate success!

According to the DQC, most states are working with one or more of five different kinds of measures. Some states use the Student growth percentile, which uses individual student performance data to show how schools have served students with the same academic starting point which is being used by 23 states.

Twelve other states use the Value table, which use individual student performance data to demonstrate what impact adults in the school have on student achievement, to show how the student’s school has helped him or her learn compared to other schools working with similar students.

Still others. i.e. 10 states, use the Growth-to-standard, which uses individual student performance data to show his or her “distance from grade-level learning goals”.

There are also three states that use the Value-added, which uses individual student performance data to show student progress, based on the state’s cut scores.

Finally, three more states use the Gain-score, which uses individual student performance data to show progress from one year to the next.

Interestingly, there are three other states using a “less common growth measure” that are unique from these five; and 10 states are using multiple measures, each combining the measures in different ways. Two states — California and Kansas — aren’t measuring individual student progress at all, the DQC stated; California measures school-level change in performance over time by grouping (such as by grade levels) and Kansas measures achievement gaps.

DQC pointed out that while the use of data “has the potential to shift thinking about school quality and student progress,” among decision makers, the “landscape of student growth measures in accountability systems is complicated,” the report noted. The only way the data work can deliver “on the promise” is to make sure it’s “transparent, well communicated and readily available to those closest to students so that they can use it to take action.”

Therefore, DQC recommended that “states leaders and education advocates need to focus on being transparent about the growth measures they’re using and why they’ve chosen those”. These will provide the common grounds for evaluation and comparison.

Very important too is communicating the state’s growth data in ways that others can understand what decisions were made and understanding how the growth data “fits within the context of other accountability measures” to give a “complete picture of student success and school quality”.

And finally, they need to monitor how these measures are affecting decision-making and being adjusted through the course of implementation
Again, we need to have a uniform method in calculating student success so we can compare states on a national scale!

(For feedbacks, comments… please email the author @ estiokoelpidio@gmail.com).

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