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Dear Colleague Letter: Update from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of State Support

Dear colleague,


I am writing to share a year-end summary of some key activities from the Department’s Office of State Support (OSS) and update you on some of our upcoming performance review and technical assistance activities as we continue to support your transition to the ESSA. We are looking forward to meeting with you at the upcoming Combined Federal Programs Meeting on December 12 and 13, 2016 (and the educator equity meeting on December 14 and 15). The meeting will allow us an opportunity to update you on newly released guidance for the ESSA and support your transition to the new provisions in the ESSA.


Year-End Summary

This December will mark a year of implementing the new OSS performance review system, which began in winter 2016 with the first quarterly progress check calls on educator equity plan implementation successes and challenges. Over the past year, we have also focused on School Improvement Grant accomplishments and the supports offered to schools identified as in need of improvement during the 2016-17 school year. In addition, OSS also conducted pilot integrated fiscal reviews in eight States that encompassed all of the OSS programs and focused on the fiscal administration of the grants which largely remain the same from NCLB to the ESSA.


The progress check conversations and fiscal reviews allowed OSS to identify challenges and successes across States, informing our technical assistance plans for the coming year and helping us better understand your context and goals. In some cases this information allowed us to work with State teams directly to address challenges before they became larger issues. Following each of the fiscal reviews, we asked State administrators to complete a short survey and are using the results to inform future process improvements. In addition, we are closely reviewing the feedback your team provided through the most recent Grantee Satisfaction Survey to determine how we can improve responsiveness, coordination, the quality of online resources, and our technical assistance services. 


We are committed to continuously improving our work and better supporting you and your team, building on the activities we started in the 2015–16 school year. We also remain committed to the goals we first shared in December 2015: 


  • Focus on What Matters: by ensuring States are making progress through implementation of federal programs toward increasing student achievement and improving the quality of instruction provided to all students;
  • Reduce Burden on States: by combining and streamlining performance review protocols;
  • Improve Communication with States: by strengthening the constructive partnership between OSS and States through continuous feedback and assessment of the OSS performance review system;
  • Differentiate and Customize our Support for States: by using the performance review system to identify technical assistance to support State needs and the areas where States are making progress and can serve as a model or resource for other States; and
  • Ensure Basic Requirements are Met: by reviewing fiscal requirements to safeguard public funds from waste, fraud, and abuse.


In the 2016–17 school year, we will focus on building a complete performance review system that helps us meet these goals, supports you, and is based on your consolidated State plan under ESSA. To support this work we will focus our first two 2016–17 school year quarterly progress check calls on ESSA transitions, in particular how we can support and learn from your successes and challenges related to consolidated State plan development.


Upcoming Activities

We know there is much that will be going on over the next year as you prepare to fully implement the ESSA in fall 2017. In order to continue to support your work, OSS has several initiatives planned for the 2016–17 school year:


Performance Review

In 2016–17, the OSS performance review system will build on several initiatives piloted in the 2015–16 school year and will continue two primary activities:


  • Fiscal Reviews: We will continue to ensure basic fiscal requirements are being met by States by conducting fiscal reviews. Based on feedback from pilot test participants we have refined our review protocol, which will be piloted with new set of nine States. We will ask these States to submit documentation and a self-assessment to inform the on-site or desk review agenda through an online portal. We hope this process will allow a more streamlined and efficient review for compliance with applicable Federal requirements. We will contact the nine States selected for fiscal reviews in December 2016 to schedule the fiscal reviews, which we will begin in the spring and complete by September 2017.  
  • Quarterly Progress Checks: The OSS will continue to hold regular quarterly progress check calls to learn from States about the implementation of OSS programs. These calls help us better understand the challenges facing the field, continue to build an understanding of your State’s efforts, build cross-program collaboration, and develop policy and technical assistance tools, to the extent possible, to support high-quality implementation of programs.


Technical Assistance

To support your transition to the ESSA, the Department will continue to provide assistance by responding to questions, releasing guidance, and collaborating with you and partners. Some upcoming opportunities include:


  • ESSA Transition Webinars: OSS will continue to host webinars on newly released guidance and final regulations. All webinars will be posted online at
  • Resources and Examples: Starting tomorrow, November 16, OSS will launch a virtual conference series, “Using Evidence to Strengthen Education Investments and Achieve Student Outcomes,” that focuses on the use of evidence to select and implement interventions in schools that will improve outcomes for students in accordance with ESSA. The series will highlight examples from States and districts that are using evidence in their work.
  • New Opportunities to Work with Peers: To provide opportunities to work with peers on key transition topics, OSS is launching a number of new peer work groups and communities of practice (CoPs) in the coming months. In November, the Equitable Access Support Network launches a new State work group on ESSA Equity Data and Reporting, and the State Support Network will announce a new CoP on Evidence-Based Interventions and Supports.
  • Collaboration Calls: OSS will continue this series of voluntary collaboration calls among groups of States to provide staff from your State with the opportunity engage with colleagues in other States to share common experiences and troubleshoot challenges and as you undertake the transition to ESSA. Collaboration Calls provide opportunities for States to direct questions to their colleagues as well as discuss common questions related to ESSA transition. We will continue to ask for your feedback on topics that are of interest to you and how to make these calls most useful and relevant to you.


Additionally, our new technical assistance network – the State Support Network – has been collecting information from States, districts, and stakeholders through a needs assessment. We will be reviewing that information over the next month to identify other high priority areas for technical assistance. We will update your team with information about new opportunities as they become available.


We appreciate your work to enhance the achievement of all students. As always, please contact your OSS program officers if you have any questions or need additional information. We are looking forward to seeing everyone next month. 



Patrick Rooney
Deputy Director
Office of State Support
U.S. Department of Education

U.S. Department of Eduction

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