Education groups dissect federal ESSA plan

About 15 education leaders and state staffers spent Monday debating the state’s plan to comply with a federal education law — and pushing for changes in the plan.

Representatives of the Idaho Education Association, Idaho School Boards Association, Idaho Association of School Administrators, Idaho Charter School Network and Idaho Library Association met with officials from the State Department of Education and State Board of Education for the daylong summit.

At issue was Idaho’s 76-page draft plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act and spend $83 million in federal money. The ESSA plan includes a new school accountability system, which the Legislature approved earlier this year.

Idaho faces a Sept. 18 deadline to submit the still-unfinished plan to the U.S. Department of Education. Seventeen states submitted plans earlier this spring.

State Board member Debbie Critchfield helped organize Monday’s meeting to hear from disgruntled education leaders. Earlier this month, ISBA and IEA leaders wrote a letter to Gov. Butch Otter and State Board members saying they felt “disrespected” after being excluded from the drafting process.

Kari Overall

Monday’s meeting included plenty of debate and disagreement, but educational stakeholders and state officials both felt the session was productive and went a long way to clearing up confusion.

“We are grateful to the State Department of Education and State Board of Education for getting us together so we can add our feedback,” IEA president-elect Kari Overall said. “We look forward to continuing to work with all the stakeholders to ensure Idaho’s teachers and students have the best accountability system in place for growth and success.”

To be sure, Monday’s meeting was nuanced and deliberative. Educators and state leaders went through the plan line by line, at times taking issue with individual word choices and definitions.

During the opening minutes of the meeting, State Board member Linda Clark found an inaccurate statement that claims Idaho offers all assessment tests “in Spanish as well as English.”

From there, the groups devoted significant time to wrestling over long-term goals, debating the tradeoffs of data reporting requirements and suggesting major changes.

Education groups suggested several potential changes to major goals the SDE identified in its plan. Groups also pushed for changes to how state leaders identify the highest performing schools, and argued over what school quality indicators should be relied on.

Some debate was philosophical, aimed at striking a balance between setting goals that are ambitious yet achievable.

“If these kind of things are set too high, they are irrelevant to my members,” IASA executive director Rob Winslow said. “We’ve done this before (with No Child Left Behind) and it didn’t really do anything.”

Some officials complained that the plan does not appear to reference Idaho’s flagship “60 percent” goal — an attempt to get 60 percent of the state’s 25- to 34-year-olds to hold a postsecondary degree or certificate. Rep. Ryan Kerby, the only lawmaker in attendance, said he was frustrated the plan appears to focus on pushing struggling students to reach proficiency, but does little to challenge or recognize successful students and schools that have already achieved proficiency.

Several participants debated at length about why the accountability system’s multiple measures of achievement and school quality would not be used to identify low-performing schools.

It took the group more than three hours to work through just 10 pages of the draft.

Critchfield adjourned the meeting after almost six hours. She called for a followup meeting July 17 to address eight federal programs and 30 draft pages left unaddressed Monday.

Afterwards, Critchfield said the discussions help soothe her concerns as plan deadlines loom.

“Some of these questions aren’t easily answered, and the last thing anybody wants is unintended consequences,” Critchfield said. “I feel a lot more confident than I would have, had we not had this really intensive six-hour work session.”

Additional information

The sixth and current ESSA draft is available to read online.

State leaders are soliciting public comment on the new draft, and anyone can leave feedback online through July 31.

Idaho’s ESSA timeline

  • Public comment period runs through July 31.
  • The State Board of Education is expected to debate and vote on the plan Aug 9 or 10.
  • Gov. Butch Otter will have 30 days to review the plan after the State Board takes action.
  • The state must submit its plan to the U.S. Department of Education by Sept. 18.
  • The ESSA compliance plan and school accountability plan will govern schools and policy decisions starting in the 2017-18 school year.

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