The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law in late 2015. The new federal education law replaces No Child Left Behind and gives states flexibility around issues like testing and accountability. Tennessee has already submitted its required ESSA plan to the US Department of Education for review. Just last week, the legislature passed HB 308, the legislative counterpart to the ESSA plan. While there are some positive elements, the plan also includes some key missed opportunities.
ESSA grants both states and districts greater flexibility in approaches to improve the lowest-performing schools. The state’s ESSA plan acknowledges the role district-led Innovation Zones (iZones) have played in improving school performance. The legislation places increased emphasis on locally-designed, locally-implemented school improvement plans that must be approved by the Commissioner of Education.
“It is good to see the state acknowledging the work of local turnaround efforts like iZones,” said TEA President Barbara Gray. “We know those closest to our schools have the most vested interest in their success.”
Achievement School District
While the state’s ESSA plan envisions continuing to use the Achievement School District as a tool for school turnarounds, the emphasis again is on change at the local level. The proposed state law (HB 308) would cap the time a school can be in the ASD at 10 years. This cap will force the district and state to work together on a transition plan for any schools assigned to the ASD. The proposed law would also restrict the ability of a charter school to expand beyond the grades a school served at the time that school was assigned to the ASD. This feature was recently reinforced by an opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General which limits the ability of charter schools to expand beyond the original grades during a school takeover.
The ESSA plan and recently passed legislation take important steps toward curbing the “blow it up” model of school turnaround.
“Up until now, the model used by the state for school turnarounds was incredibly disruptive,” said TEA President Barbara Gray. “This new approach is not perfect, but it marks a significant improvement. Students and communities don’t need more disruption, they need support and stability.”
While these two elements are positive, the state’s plan misses out on opportunities to rethink testing and accountability.
ESSA also gives states an opportunity to rethink testing. While Tennessee is just at the beginning of the TNReady experiment, most teachers and parents believe there is too much time spent on testing and test prep. TEA believes the state should have used the flexibility provided by ESSA to further reduce testing and also re-examine our approach to testing on the state and district level.
Tennessee is also missing out on a key opportunity to change the way teachers are evaluated. Connecticut is the latest state to ditch value-added scores in teacher evaluations. TEA believes Tennessee’s ESSA plan should have included a new, fairer approach to teacher evaluation.
The US Department of Education will now review Tennessee’s plan and offer guidance for moving forward. TEA will continue to work with Commissioner McQueen and the Tennessee Department of Education on maximizing the positive impact of ESSA.