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Kirst, Torlakson Detail Problems with Proposed Federal ESSA Regulations in 10-Page Letter to U.S. Department of Education

August 8, 2016

State Board of Education President Michael Kirst and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson sent a 10-page letter to the U.S. Department of Education on August 1 (the final day of the public comment period) detailing California’s concerns regarding proposed federal rules implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

“...We submit these comments, which are not intended to reflect the entirety of our concerns with the proposed regulations, but rather to illustrate where they impede progress toward ESSA’s overall goal: to provide states with maximum flexibility while ensuring a focus on improving performance, equity and access, and improvement for all students,” the letter states in its first paragraph.

Among the points raised in the letter:

--“A single summative rating undermines equity by masking disparities within indicators and undercuts the value of a multiple measures system. The proposed regulations go beyond ESSA by requiring that a state’s system of meaningful differentiation assign a single summative rating to each school based on all of the required indicators. ...A single rating would severely undercut the value of the multiple measures approach that the state adopted as a key feature of (the Local Control Funding Formula) and would undermine the value of ESSA’s requirement that states include indicators beyond test scores.”

--“The timeline for submitting state plans and identifying schools is unrealistic. The proposed regulations move ahead by almost a full year the timetable for the submission of state plans and for states to make initial determinations of schools’ performance. This is inconsistent with Congressional intent to provide an additional year...”

--“The proposed regulations’ approach to assigning weights is unduly restrictive. The proposed regulations are significantly more prescriptive than the statute in describing how states must satisfy the requirement to assign “much greater weight” to the academic indicators.”

--“The proposed regulations create problems for alternative schools. The proposed regulations interpret ESSA’s requirement for the state plan to describe “a state accountability system” to mean that the state must establish a “single statewide accountability system” that is “the same accountability system the state uses to annually meaningfully differentiate all public schools in the state...” This narrow interpretation would create problems for states, like California, that have a significant number of alternative schools that receive Title I funding. Alternative schools are designed to meet the needs of at-risk student populations, and include schools that serve students who are in custody of the juvenile court system or enrolled in drop-out recovery programs and continuation schools... Such schools often serve students for limited durations... (and) generally do not enroll students for their entire high school career. Accordingly, some indicators that are appropriate measures of performance for comprehensive high schools cannot accurately measure the quality of educational programs at alternative schools.”

--“Proficiency on assessments is too narrowly defined. ESSA requires states to use an indicator of academic achievement that “measure’s proficiency on the statewide assessments in reading/language arts and mathematics. The proposed regulations add a definition for “proficient” that requires that the academic achievement indicator “equally measure grade level proficiency on the reading/language arts and mathematics assessments.” We are concerned that this definition is not only too narrow and resembles California’s old paradigm of accountability, but more importantly, forces all states to only emphasize a particularly point of achievement.”

--“The proposed regulations go beyond ESSA requirements for school improvement plans... for schools identified for comprehensive or targeted support.... These provisions (impose) requirements that exceed the statute and are likely to be burdensome and divert resources intended to help needy students to administrative overhead.”

--“Requirements for state, LEA and school report cards are excessive. The proposed regulations also include substantially more detailed requirements than ESSA about the mandated report cards. These requirements could carry significant administrative costs that could instead be invested in services for students. They would also create logistical and practical challenges in areas where California currently does not collect the required information.”

Source:  California Department of Education

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