Idaho faces deadlines for new education law

Leaders of the Idaho State Department of Education say they are employing an “all hands on deck” strategy for complying with a major new federal education law.

Between now and March, Idaho faces several key deadlines for drafting and submitting a plan to the feds to comply with the Every Students Succeeds Act. The State Department of Education and State Board of Education have turned to more than 100 educators, community members and taxpayers to help provide feedback and draft ideas.

Although SDE spokesman Jeff Church said the state is deliberately taking its time, the process is about to speed up. Within weeks, Church expects the state to release a draft of its plan. Then education leaders will seek public input on that plan through November.

Signed into law last December, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a major federal education law that replaces the No Child Left Behind Act. The law is notable, in part, because it transfers much of the oversight of schools from the federal government to the states. But even with flexibility, states still face requirements for testing and accountability.

“We have an opportunity to design systems that best meet the needs of our students and our local communities,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra said in a written statement. “We also understand, that with this new opportunity, it will require a considerable amount of work, planning and most importantly collaboration.”

Under ESSA, several things are required of states:

  • Draft and submit a consolidated state plan to the federal government by March. The state plan is required to describe how Idaho will implement the changes under ESSA. It addresses topics from testing to school accountability, education for disadvantaged students and English language learners and training for teachers.
  • Develop and enact a public school accountability system.
  • Identify the lowest performing schools, known as “comprehensive support schools.”
  • Develop an improvement plan and provide resources for those low-performing comprehensive support schools.
  • After the state plan is approved or revised based on state or federal feedback, Idaho’s plan will go into effect July 1, 2017.
  • The new accountability model will begin governing schools during the 2017-18 school year.
  • ESSA still requires states to administer tests aligned to state standards in math and science. Those tests must be given annually in grades three through eight and once in high school. There are also requirements for science tests and provisions for flexibility in testing.
  • Under ESSA, the previous Adequate Yearly Progress requirements to reach 100 percent testing proficiency are repealed.
  • ESSA does not include provisions to recognize or celebrate the highest performing schools.

Two of the State Department’s point people on ESSA compliance are Marcia Beckman, an associate deputy superintendent over federal programs and special education, and chief policy advisor Duncan Robb.

One of Robb’s big jobs will be to gather feedback from educators and the public in November once the state finalizes and publishes the draft of its plan.

Duncan Robb
Duncan Robb

“Sometimes, even we don’t like those (ESSA) requirements, let alone the people in the field,” Robb said. “But we don’t have a choice and ESSA was not a blank check. That’s why stakeholder feedback is so important.”

The SDE hasn’t announced its public feedback schedule or strategy, but the nonpartisan, nonprofit Council of Chief State School Officers has published a guide full of best practices.

The CCSSO (of which Ybarra and, therefore, Idaho is a member) recommends moving beyond the legal minimum requirements to provide “extensive outreach and engagement efforts.” The group advocates moving beyond the same people education leaders always hear from to reach a diverse population that includes civil rights leaders, minority leaders, community leaders, parents, taxpayers and people who specifically feel disconnected.

Experts from the CCSSO specifically advise state education leaders “be prepared to feel uncomfortable… it’s important to listen and let your stakeholders know they’ve been heard.”

The CCSSO specifically praised Montana’s efforts to assemble a working group that includes teachers, superintendents, district trustees, tribal education leaders and representatives from the state’s school for the deaf and blind.

“The goal of ESSA engagement should be for stakeholders to leave feeling heard, informed and aware of how they can stay involved — is that what is happening now?” the CCSSO guide states.

SDE leaders have developed five working groups that are each devoted to an aspect of ESSA implementation. According to a roster of the working groups that Ed News obtained Thursday from one of the participants, each group has between 18 and 133 members and includes representation from all regions of the state.

The working groups include teachers, English language learner coordinators, parents, principals, migrant liaisons and superintendents.

Those participating in at least one ESSA working group, according to the roster, include Butte County Superintendent Joel Wilson, Grangeville Elementary principal Susan Anderson, Minidoka special education teacher Alexander Greenfield, Idaho Digital Learning Academy principal/ Nampa teacher Tim Rigsby and J.J. Saldana from the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs.

Idaho officials haven’t said how the state will identify its lowest performing schools, or what resources would be made available for those schools. But education leaders will solicit ideas and strategies for that next month, Beckman and Robb said.

Church said Ybarra is not interested in punishing such schools.

“The approach with those schools or districts is to say ‘How can we support you, what help do you need?’” he said. “We function much more as a support mechanism.”

Here is an edited version of the state-provided working timeline for compliance:

January – February 2016:

  • Idaho State Department of Education staff researched and studied the ESSA and its requirements.

March – September 2016:

  • The State Board of Education granted initial approval to the state’s accountability structure. The board’s staff is also in the process of staging a series of public meetings on school accountability throughout the state.
  • Convened working groups that were charged with gathering input from education groups, taxpayers and parents. Those working groups are: Consultation and Coordination; Challenging Academic Standards and Academic Assessments; Accountability, Support and Improvement for Schools; Supporting Excellent Educators; Supporting All Students.

October 2016:

  • The SDE will provide feedback to the U.S. Department of Education on its proposed ESSA regulations, including assessment-testing regulations.
  • The SDE staff is scheduled to complete its draft of the mandated consolidated state plan by late October.

November 2016:

  • The SDE will seek public input on its draft consolidated state plan through a series of public hearings. The dates and locations of those meetings have yet to be announced.

December 2016:

  • The State Board of Education is expected to vote on whether to approve the consolidated state plan. Officials will also seek feedback from Gov. Butch Otter and continue to accept public feedback.

February or March 2017:

  • SDE officials will review feedback; incorporate any relevant changes into the consolidated state plan and then, potentially, resubmit it to the State Board of Education for final state-level approval.

March 2017:

  • Deadline to submit the consolidated state plan to the U.S. Department of Education.