ESSA under review

As state submits plan to feds, area school administrators share thoughts

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“I think it’s a step in the right direction.”

The Iowa Department of Education sent in its plan for meeting the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requirements to the U.S. Department of Education on Monday. Area school administrators, like Marshalltown Schools Director of Instruction Dr. Lisa Stevenson, shared their thoughts on the move.

“They (the Iowa DoE) did have a meeting at the Marshalltown AEA (Area Education Agency) last school year … they had one of the drafts available for public comment,” Stevenson said of a DoE effort to collect input on the state’s ESSA plan.

West Marshall Schools Superintendent Jacy Large said ESSA will have less of an “umbrella” approach than previous federal education legislation.

“It gives schools an opportunity to be assessed with how we actually do things, as opposed to a national plan that was more of an overall umbrella.” he said.

In an Iowa DoE statement released this week, ESSA was described as maintaining the “former No Child Left Behind Act’s focus on school accountability and equity for all students while shifting decision-making back to the states and local school districts.”

ESSA is a reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and all states must submit a specific plan for meeting its requirements to the U.S. Department of Education.

Large said ESSA has the “same guidelines and principles” behind it as the original 1965 law.

Stevenson said ESSA includes measures for English language learning (ELL) proficiency and a focus on the socio-emotional growth of students.

She said the ESSA input meeting at the Marshalltown AEA gave the district an opportunity to put the law into context for DoE officials.

“When you get to have those one-on-one or small group conversations, you can really impact how the policies are created, and also tell your story so they get a real context of what the ESSA they’re putting on paper is going to mean for us in practice.” Stevenson said.

While the Iowa ESSA plan is under federal review, the law’s impact on Iowa can’t yet be known.

“We’ll see how that tenure goes,” Large said.

Stevenson said the idea that ESSA will provide more local control to districts is also unknown at this point.

“We don’t know what our state assessment is going to be yet,” she said. “Until we understand how our individual schools and district will fall out in terms of ‘targeted,’ ‘comprehensive’ or ‘not identified,’ it’s a little premature, I think, to say that there will be more local control.”

One potential area of concern for Stevenson had to do with districts reporting subgroup data in the law.

“With No Child Left Behind, we had to report out subgroup data,” she said, adding things like race and ethnicity, ELL status, special education status, free-and-reduced lunch status and more were included as subgroups. “The state determined a minimum threshold of students … within a school or district in order to have to publicly report that data.”

Marshalltown has easily met those numbers previously. With ESSA, Stevenson said the threshold for reporting subgroup data has been “raised.”

“They’ve raised that number, which essentially cuts out a whole crop of districts from having to report to the public how subgroups are doing,” she said, adding the change could be detrimental to larger, more urban districts like Marshalltown, which will still easily meet the threshold.

Stevenson said it’s less likely rural districts, with fewer children in those subgroups, would have to publicly report how those students are doing.

“From a public relations standpoint, it makes it look like those (more urban) districts are the only ones not doing well in the eyes of the state,” she said.

The state’s ESSA plan will be under the U.S. Department of Education’s review for up to 120 days, after which feedback will be provided from the federal government.

For more on the Iowa ESSA plan, visit https://www.educateiowa.gov/pk-12/every-student-succeeds-act

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Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com