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Timeline for Oregon’s ESSA plan thrown into question

Just as the public comment period is winding down for Oregon’s final ESSA plan, the U.S. Department of Education is throwing a wrench in the works by changing the rules next week.

States must offer their Every Student Succeeds Act for public comment for 30 days before submitting it to the federal Education Department for its approval.

Oregon posted its final plan as well as an overview on Feb 14. A public survey will be open until March 14, although people can still submit comments or testimony after that. The State Board of Education will vote on it March 23.

Oregon was aiming for April 3 to send the plan to the feds, but the U.S. Department of Education is planning to release a new template for plans the week of March 13, according to a letter to educators from Betsy DeVos, the new U.S. secretary of education.

It is not clear whether Oregon can just cut and paste into the new template or if it will need to open a new 30-day comment period, according to Meg Boyd, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Education.

“Hopefully it’s the same kind of template, just reordered,” Boyd said.

DeVos’ letter says the U.S. Department of Education will still accept state plans on April 3. The feds then have 120 days to respond. Any delay pushes against the 2017-18 school year, when some aspects of the plan are to start taking effect.

ESSA stated that it required “meaningful consultation with a variety of stakeholders,” and the Oregon Department of Education has been meeting for 15 months with educators, policymakers, business people and community representatives all over Oregon.

ESSA replaced some of the rigid testing demands of No Child Left Behind with greater flexibility for states to decide their own standards and accountability measures, but some criteria are still defined by the law.

States are required to test reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, with scores separated out for student subgroups, but states now get to set their own targets and decide how to handle low-performing schools. Test scores can’t be the only factor in state assessment of student learning either, nor will schools be rated by a simple number grade. Schools must also be rated on things such as teacher proficiency, school climate or available course options.

In one of the big changes, the feds will have no role in teacher evaluation.

No Child Left Behind emphasized test scores and graduation rates by student group. It focused on reading, writing and math, which led schools with limited funding to cut in other areas, including science, history, languages, arts and physical education.

According to ODE, communities want a well-rounded education that also has personalized learning and partners with businesses and community organizations to foster student growth.

OSBA has been heavily involved with the creation of Oregon’s state plan, and OSBA Board President Betty Reynolds praised ODE’s efforts to talk with stakeholders.

“OSBA is grateful for the many opportunities ODE extended to school board members to help develop this plan,” Reynolds said. “We think Oregon has crafted a strong plan that will help all our students.”

The Confederation of Oregon School Administrators considers the summative school ratings a big improvement over the number grades in No Child Left Behind.
“We are generally supportive of the elements of the plan,” said Morgan Allen, COSA deputy executive director of policy and advocacy.

Stand for Children Oregon has pressed to make sure every indicator of student progress will be separated out by student groups.

“We embraced ESSA when it passed in 2015 – it was long overdue,” said Parasa Chanramy, Stand for Children’s policy and advocacy manager, “However, we also recognized that with this additional state flexibility under the new federal law comes great responsibility in ensuring that all children in Oregon -- especially kids of color, English learners, kids navigating poverty, and kids with special needs -- are on track to graduate from high school prepared for their next step.”

Here are a few key items ODE has told the U.S. Department of Education it will do to comply with ESSA:

 “Supporting excellent educators”

“Accountability, support and improvement for schools”

  • Instead of rating schools on a scale of 1-5, Oregon will report multiple measures of student progress and school quality. The measures will be grouped into four categories: opportunity to learn, academic success, college and career readiness, and well-rounded education.
  • A two-page family-friendly report card will report chronic absenteeism, freshman on-track, and five-year completer rates, indicators of schools’ effectiveness. Measurements will also be broken down by student groups. Schools will be able to report locally relevant data and information on their efforts.

 “School improvement”

  • Based on the accountability data and local factors, schools that need additional support will be identified as Comprehensive Support Schools or Targeted Support Schools.
  • A district’s autonomy will be tied to how well its schools are doing.
  • Accountability for alternative schools and youth corrections schools will be based on their five-year completion rate.

Academic standards and assessments

  • Oregon will continue with the Common Core State Standards.
  • Oregon will continue with Smarter Balanced assessments but will move toward allowing districts to use a nationally recognized assessment.

“Long-term goals for academic achievement”

  • Oregon will aim for a 90 percent graduation rate for a four-year cohort and a 93 percent rate for a five-year cohort by 2025, with yearly targets to get there.

- Jake Arnold, OSBA