State Submits Plan to Comply with Federal ESSA Education Law

Perhaps overshadowed by all the focus this week on the 2017-19 state budget was the submission by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) of Wisconsin’s Consolidated State Plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  As required by federal law, Wisconsin submitted its plan to the U.S. Department of Education on the deadline date of last Monday (Sept. 18).

Under ESSA, states must establish an accountability system to identify and turn around public schools that need improvement.

Wisconsin’s federal accountability system, as established under ESSA and set forth in the plan, is meant to augment the existing state accountability system, which generates the school and school district report cards released each fall.

The federal accountability system, as detailed in the plan, will designate schools as targeted support, comprehensive support, or not identified. These identifications will focus school improvement work and supplement state accountability system reporting.

Under Wisconsin’s ESSA plan, the task of turning around low performing schools will fall to local school boards and communities rather than outside, private operators or through the creation of state-mandated recovery zones/districts.

As accountability indicators, Wisconsin’s federal accountability system will use measures of:

  • Academic Achievement (ELA and Math);
  • Student Growth;
  • Progress toward English learner proficiency;
  • HS Graduation; and
  • Chronic Absenteeism

ESSA also requires states to set ambitious long-term goals for ELA and mathematics proficiency, for graduation rates, and progress toward English language proficiency for English learners.

Wisconsin’s plan sets  as its ambitious, long-term goals for ELA, math and graduation rates that it will cut the achievement gap in half for each subgroup within a six-year period. This goal reflects Wisconsin’s expectation that all students graduate from high school ready for college an career. However, because all students in all subgroups are expected to continue to improve their performance, the plan will require significant improvements for the lowest performing subgroups.

The goal calls for subgroups to maintain annual progress (improvement) of between about 1.5 percentage points and up to more than 4 percentage points for those subgroup that have the largest gaps to overcome.

This means, for example, that the black subgroup will be expected to have more annual growth in its students’ proficiency rate for both ELA and mathematics during the next six years than was realized over the previous six-year period. The students with disabilities group, for example, must also realize annual proficiency rate increases in mathematics that surpass the entirety of the growth in the prior six-year timeline as well as yearly increases in ELA about one percentage point less than that of the previous six years of growth.

At the same time, because the plan anticipates the proficiency rate for all students and higher performing subgroups will continue to increase by 1 percentage point annually, gap closure by lower performing subgroups will not be caused by stagnation among higher performers.   All students in all subgroups are expected to continue to improve their performance under the plan.

For English Language Arts (ELA), this means a 1.0 percentage point annual increase in grade-level proficiency for the all students group.  As noted, higher annual increases are required for the other subgroups to meet their goals – ranging from an annual increase of 1.6 percentage points in grade-level proficiency for Asian students to 4.0 percentage points in grade-level proficiency for black students.

For mathematics, it means a 1.0 percentage point annual increase in proficiency rate for the all students group. Higher annual increases are required for the other subgroups —  ranging from 1.4 percentage points for Asian students to 4.2 percentage points for black students. While these targets are specific to each subgroup, the length of time to halve the gap is six years for all groups.

To support high quality teaching, Wisconsin’s plan calls for utilizing the Educator Effectiveness System as a professional development system to continuously improve practice, provides a statewide learning management system for professional development activities, and creates regional and statewide training opportunities around innovative strategies for leading or teaching for equity.

The plan also outlines Wisconsin’s numerous supports for school districts and special populations under ESSA to advance student achievement, including student supports for:  English language learners, foster care students, homeless students, migratory students, military students and neglected & delinquent students.

The plan is not without controversy.   Gov. Scott Walker, who under ESSA was required to have 30 days to review the plan, sent a letter to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers saying he would not endorse the plan and calling on Evers to submit another that incorporates “bold reforms” for turning around poorly performing schools. Walker said the current plan “does little to challenge the status quo for the benefit of Wisconsin’s students.”

In response, Evers noted that the plan was drafted with input from a bipartisan group of stakeholders he calls the “equity council,” composed of educators, lawmakers, civil rights advocates, school choice proponents and others, including a representative from Gov. Walker’s office.

ESSA, is the successor to the No Child Left Behind Act, and is Congress’ most recent (2015) reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.  That federal law was initially passed as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, and was intended to address inequities in education.  It remains the single largest source of federal funds for education, mainly through a program known as Title I.