Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law by the President last month, States will have to craft new accountability and intervention systems. While the concept of identifying schools for intervention based on performance is not new, ESSA modifies the current system and sets up two tiers of interventions and support based on new timelines.
States must set up new means of differentiating between schools based on a number of indicators (as described in last week’s Federal Update). Once those schools’ ratings are determined, the State must identify for “comprehensive” support and improvement those schools which are:
- At least the lowest-performing 5% of Title I schools;
- Any public high school with a graduation rate of less than 2/3; and
- Title I schools with persistently low-performing subgroups.
Persistently low-performing subgroups are defined in the law as any subgroup which would, on its own, be identified as in the lowest-performing 5% of schools, and which has not improved in a certain number of years as determined by the State.
The State will notify the local educational agency (LEA) of these schools, and the LEA will develop and implement a comprehensive support and improvement plan which includes evidence-based interventions and is based on a school-level needs assessment. The plan must also identify any resource inequities to be addressed through the plan. Though the LEA is doing the work on the ground in this scenario, the State must approve the LEAs’ plans and monitor their implementation. States must also develop exit criteria for schools in improvement. ESSA states that if a school does not meet those exit criteria within a set number of years (up to four), then the State must take more rigorous action.
For those schools which only have underperforming subgroups – but those subgroups have not yet met the requirements for comprehensive interventions – targeted interventions are required. States will notify LEAs of schools where subgroups are underperforming, and the LEAs in turn will notify the schools. Those schools must develop and implement improvement plans overseen by the LEAs (these plans must also identify resource inequities), and if they fail to improve then they move on to the more rigorous supports described above.
The big question, for now, is when these interventions need to be in place. ESSA as written requires States to have new plans in place by the 2016-17 school year, with interventions based on data from that year beginning the following year. However, the omnibus appropriations bill delayed the start of Title I implementation from 2016-17 to 2017-18. This likely means that the first year new interventions could be put into action is in the 2018-19 school year, based on data from 2017-18. ESSA states that districts must continue to support schools currently identified for improvement. While the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has offered some guidance on transition to the new law, it has only addressed how States are to treat those schools in the 2016-17 school year. States with large-scale waivers of the current law, ED says, may choose to identify a new group of schools for interventions based on their waivers, in the coming year, or may continue interventions in schools currently identified for improvement. What will happen in the following year is still up in the air.