Education Insights

How to Prepare for ESSA

Understanding ESSA

Many teachers have come to expect change as a routine part of their occupation. Not only do classes change every semester or year, but education requirements are constantly evolving as policymakers try to determine the best way to educate and evaluate the nation’s children. The latest major change to education legislation is the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which replaces No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

What to Expect

In many ways, the biggest change represents a shift of oversight and power from the federal level to the state (and even local) level. The goal of the program is to allow states to create challenging but attainable goals that match the unique needs of their students.

States will also determine any corrective action and necessary support for low-performing schools, which are defined as the bottom five percent of schools in a state according to the set standards.

Performance Testing

It is important to note that ESSA does not eliminate testing. Students will still take part in testing every year from third to eighth grade and again once in high school. However, it does give states more room to choose different kinds of performance assessment to show student proficiency so long as they can prove the validity of their assessment system. In addition, the legislation calls for states to broaden the indicators used to gauge school quality beyond core academics, with measures focused on student success and college / career readiness – all defined at the state level rather than by the federal regulators.

Students with Disabilities

The Every Student Succeeds Act also changes school requirements for students with disabilities. One percent of all students can be excluded from typical performance assessments and will take part in alternate testing. While the percentage of students excluded from the main assessment has gone down due to staffing concerns, states have control of how that one percent is determined in their schools.

Teacher Evaluations

NCLB had specific requirements for teacher evaluations, including using student test scores. ESSA turns over much of the decision making regarding teacher assessment to the state and district level, which may allow for more meaningful performance assessment by combining both traditional and non-traditional measures.

How to Prepare for ESSA

Communicate with Your School, District, and State

Unlike previous education acts, such as NCLB, ESSA is designed to be applied, potentially, very differently from state to state. Therefore, the impact of ESSA on your classroom will largely depend on your state and district. Additionally, your state DOE may introduce revisions to the program in the future that bring about different changes than expected.

A common problem cited under previous implementations of federal education legislation was the rigid approach to education. With ESSA’s efforts to push more local control, it may be easier for teachers to influence the educational standards and assessment styles that will be implemented in their schools.

No one has more experience with the needs of students than educators. If you have ideas or concerns, make sure to pass them on to the decision makers in your district. If you have data you can use, bring it to the attention of your principal and superintendent, and do the same if you have stories and anecdotal evidence. Take advantage of any state Department of Education or regional meetings you are able to attend. Advocate for your students, classroom, and school.
Take a Look at Student Assessment Practices

Be prepared for a major potential shift in student assessments, though these changes may come over time as states find new and more effective ways to assess student performance. Your school may experience large changes, or it may take a while for ESSA to have a noticeable impact. While some states and schools may stick to traditional assessment methods, others could try new systems like interim testing throughout the year or performance tasks.

Remember, the switch to ESSA won’t just impact administrators and teachers. ESSA may introduce a lot of changes to students as well, particularly for older students who have grown accustomed to traditional assessment methods and standards.One helpful way to ease students through this transition is by developing quality rubrics that clearly lay out expectations and performance measurements.

Streamline Data Collection and Analysis

With greater flexibility comes an expanded responsibility to report on progress. Expect a greater emphasis on data, as ESSA prioritizes both reporting and transparency. In light of this emphasis, both schools and districts may find it beneficial to begin streamlining data collection and analysis now. When every teacher and/or school uses a different system, it can be difficult to detect trends or compare data across a district or state. A streamlined system can save time and money, both of which are hot commodities in the education world.

Beyond meeting any state requirements for reporting data, administrators and teachers alike may find significant advantages to a fully integrated data collection and analysis system. Instead of relying on differing or siloed systems or documents, administrators and teachers can enter, view and analyze all information within a central system to allow for greater analysis of strengths and weaknesses in individual students, classrooms and schools as well as across the entire district. This information can be used to identify and support struggling students, adjust curricula, and improve teacher effectiveness.
Diversify and Calibrate Teacher Evaluation Techniques
Evaluation can be a sore spot among educators. In fact, only one out of every five educators feels their evaluation is assessed fairly. Many factors can lead to dissatisfaction with the evaluation process such as:

  • Unknown methods of measurement
  • Lack of impartiality
  • Inaccurate, irrelevant, or incomplete methods

ESSA gives state and local leadership greater power over teacher assessment/evaluation. Take advantage of these changes by encouraging your school, district, and state to diversify and calibrate teacher evaluation techniques and clearly outline measurement techniques and expectations. Objective judgment does not always come naturally, even if evaluators have the best intentions. To help ensure impartial judgment, all observers and evaluators should take part in professional calibration training.

A good evaluation system should rely on multiple sources of performance measurement including student scores/progress, observation and evaluation by peers and superiors, student/parent reviews, etc. A diversified approach paints a larger picture of overall teacher effectiveness – and supports the ultimate objective of professional growth.

Make Students Your Priority

Regardless of whether your school experiences major, minor, or no immediate changes, your efforts in the classroom will be what your students remember. No matter whether changes are implemented smoothly or not-so-smoothly, do what you do best—teach and care for the students in your classroom. That will make the greatest impact in their education.

At Performance Matters, we have the tools and experience needed to help schools and districts have the information and power necessary to improve student success. To learn more about our services, contact us today!