Green Light from the Feds for the State’s ESSA Plan Might Finally Be Near

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The California State Board of Education held a special meeting April 12 to vote on the latest version of their Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan. (ESSA is the Obama administration’s 2015 replacement for No Child Left Behind.) The vote was unanimous to approve the plan, which was nearly two years in the making. It is widely expected that this latest iteration will be approved by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

According to Los Angeles Times’ Joy Resmovits: “Board members drew out the process because they were intent on keeping a focus on California's priorities rather than letting federal law determine the state's plans. They speak of the ‘California way.’” This includes hewing to the much-maligned color-coded Dashboard system used to identify school’s strengths and weaknesses.

“They focused on aligning their plan to fulfill ESSA requirements with the state Local Control Funding Formula,” continues Resmovits. “But while the funding formula requires the state to find and help low-performing school districts, ESSA requires states to identify and aid individual schools.”

“The state plan spells out how California will improve the state’s lowest-performing, low-income schools (392 are identified by the Dashboard) in return for about $2.4 billion in federal funding to spend on low-income children, teacher training, services for migrant children and English learners,” writes John Fensterwald of EdSource.

However, he adds, “The board still has a lot of work to do before the plan goes into effect this fall.  Still to come are the details of what support for the lowest-performing schools will look like. The board will spend the next six months holding meetings to figure that out.”

Also to be determined, DeVos’ response to a waiver request from the board “to reverse a change they had reluctantly agreed to, involving the metric for measuring the language proficiency of English learners,” writes Fensterwald.

Many of the revisions in the plan won’t affect California classrooms, at least not in any significant way. But one change no doubt being cheered by education advocates is the inclusion of 11th grade Smarter Balanced testing results in the Academic Indicator for ELA and math on the 2018 Dashboard. Bill Lucia, President of EdVoice, Parent Revolution and Speak UP argued for this in a joint letter to the board sent earlier this month.

“By ensuring this indicator appears distinctly on the Dashboard,” the letter stated, “parents can make better-informed decisions about how high schools are educating all students.”

--Leslee Komaiko