Idaho’s ESSA plan is still in draft, due to feds in three months

Idaho is still working on its plans to fulfill federal education requirements that will affect all of the state’s students and teachers.

Idaho has until Sept. 18 to submit its plan for complying with the nation’s new education law. The plan is still in draft form. The latest version is replete with unanswered questions and will be unavailable to the public until Monday.

All states must comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) during the upcoming school year. The U.S. Department of Education has approved at least 17 state plans, but Idaho’s plan is far from completion. The State Board of Education plans to discuss draft No. 5 at its meeting Thursday, because that is all that’s available to the members. Draft No. 6 will be released Monday. The State Board is expected to approve a final plan during its August meeting. From there, the plan would go to Gov. Butch Otter and eventually to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

“Not having a finished product makes it more difficult to discuss a plan on its merits,” State Board member Debbie Critchfield said. “We’re close enough to the deadline that there’s not a lot of wiggle room for changes if they are needed. The governor has a huge interest in this and the Legislature is interested.”

The House and Senate education committees have scheduled a rare joint summer meeting for June 27. The agenda hasn’t been made public yet, but Critchfield confirmed lawmakers want a State Department of Education briefing on the ESSA plan.

“There are several hurdles before the full board gives final approval,” Critchfield said. “We don’t want to jeopardize the federal timelines and the department has communicated with several board members that they will have what we need in time to act.”

Signed by President Obama in December 2015, ESSA requires holding schools accountable for student performance and measuring teacher quality. ESSA replaces the No Child Left Behind law and shifts more responsibility to the states. State superintendent Sherri Ybarra has said ESSA “returns a great deal of authority to schools and school districts and states.”

The 2017 Legislature approved a new accountability system, a piece of the larger ESSA compliance plan. The State Board facilitated the new accountability system. The new accountability system is significant, because Idaho repealed its much-maligned five-star school rating system in 2014 and has not had an accountability measure during Ybarra’s time in office.

After the SDE unveils the ESSA draft No. 6 Monday, Idahoans will have 30 days to comment, department spokesman Jeff Church said in an email to Idaho Education News. However, the SDE’s plan is due to the State Board on July 14, only 25 days after its public release. The board meets on Aug. 9 and 10.

Idaho’s draft plan No. 5 is publicly available and spans 74 pages. But much of it will change, according to Church.

“Feedback continues to be gathered on what should happen,” Church said.

Here are some of the major requirements of ESSA and Idaho’s status, according to an email from Church (click here for the full text of the email):

ESSA requires states to identify low-performing schools and develop intervention plans for bottom performers. This remains unresolved. The SDE will recommend to the State Board pushing back identifying low-performing schools until 2018-19.

States are required to measure teacher effectiveness. “This is an area of the plan we are still working on,” Church said.

States are required to ensure ineffective teachers are not clustered in low-performing schools. “This is an area of the plan we are still working on,” Church said.

ESSA requires states to measure school quality. Initially, the SDE planned to select metrics for measuring school quality from a stakeholder survey, but state officials recently learned Idaho must identify indicators by September, leaving no time for a survey. The SDE is considering using chronic absenteeism to measure school quality, a metric removed last year because of feedback.

“As a member of the committee that worked on accountability, I am not ready to abandon a framework  that was crafted for Idaho until we submit it and the federal government tells us to change it,” Critchfield said. “We were told to design a plan that best suits the needs of Idaho. That’s where we started and that’s the plan I think we submit first.”

ESSA requires states to hold schools accountable for student performance. Under the plan legislators approved this year, the state will use proficiency and growth on the Idaho Standards Achievement Test, proficiency and growth among English language learners, or ELL students, and graduation rates.

National education experts discussed ESSA plans with reporters during the annual Education Writers Association convention last month in Washington, D.C.

Chris Minich of the Council of Chief State Schools Officers said states should create simple models that people can understand. Otherwise, he said, “we lose parents.”

Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute agreed. “If a state accountability plan does a good job, it helps parents and taxpayers understand if a school is good or not. The ratings also should differentiate between good high poverty schools and bad high poverty schools.”

Petrilli said No Child Left Behind was built to close achievement gaps between high- and low-achieving students, so high achievers were not a priority. ESSA is different.

Petrilli praised several states’ plans. For example, he said Colorado’s plan “improves achievement for all kids and growth over time.”

Marc Sternberg of the Walton Family Foundation said he has reviewed many of the states’ plans.

“States are not walking away from real accountability,” he said. “They are looking for aggregate school performance data.”