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A Message from the Superintendent

December 2015

Dear Shaker Schools Community Member,

On Thursday, President Barack Obama signed into law a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. The new reauthorization legislation is known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESEA was last reauthorized more than a decade ago as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

The new law represents a significant and positive shift in our attitudes about how we use assessments in public education. It recognizes the concerns of parents, students and educators about the one-size-fits-all approach to assessment, and it helps return us to the original intent of ESEA, which was to ensure that all children receive an opportunity for a great education that will prepare them for college, career and life.

The parents, students, staff, teachers and administrators of Shaker Heights should be very proud of their role in making this happen. Through groups such as Test Mania, their voices were heard in Columbus and in Washington, D.C. Through our District's Five-Year Strategic Plan, we can be sure that assessment will be used as a tool to improve teaching and learning and will complement - rather than detract from - the robust, holistic education our students receive in Shaker.

But our work is only beginning. In the coming months, we will continue advocating and presenting recommendations to the state on how our students can best be served under the reauthorization. It is so important that we utilize multiple data points and differentiated ways to determine mastery of state learning standards to ensure that our students progress each year. This year will be an opportune time for us to use our voices and actions to assist the Ohio Department of Education with establishing our state accountability requirements.

The following is a synopsis of ESSA from the Ohio School Boards Association:

  • The new law will transition into effect over the next several years and cover fiscal years 2017-2020. For the 2016 calendar year, existing state plans will be in effect through Aug. 1. New state plans pursuant to ESSA will take effect beginning with the 2017-18 school year. Existing waivers to states will terminate on or after Aug. 1, 2016.
  • Under ESSA, states will develop and submit plans for increasing the achievement of low-income students to the U.S. Department of Education in order to receive Title I grants. Those plans are required to be in consultation with state policymakers; local education agencies; representatives of teachers; principals; other school staff; and parents. Once submitted, the plans will undergo peer review by multidisciplinary teams appointed by the education department.
  • As under NCLB, states will develop or demonstrate they currently have "challenging academic standards" for all public school students in mathematics; reading or language arts; and science. However, ESSA further requires states to "demonstrate" that the standards are aligned with entrance requirements to state postsecondary institutions and "relevant" state career and technical education standards.
  • To address concerns about over-testing, ESSA permits states to set targets for total time spent on testing. Further, states and school districts may use federal funds to audit their testing systems and eliminate redundant or unnecessary tests.
  • The biggest accountability change is that adequate yearly progress (AYP) will no longer be used. AYP will be replaced with state-defined long-term goals that are "ambitious" and include measures of interim progress. The goals and interim measures will continue to apply to all students and individual subgroups of students.
  • In addition, the NCLB-defined sanctions and prescribed interventions also are eliminated. Instead, states will identify schools in need of "comprehensive support and improvement" and require local education agencies to develop an improvement plan in collaboration with community stakeholders.
  • ESSA also includes a preschool development grant program and Title II authorization to prepare, train and recruit high-quality teachers, principals or other school leaders without highly qualified teacher (HQT) requirements and mandated teacher evaluation requirements. The legislation eliminates HQT mandates.
  • As for Title I fund use, ESSA does not include new provisions for Title I portability that could have allowed students the option to transfer to private schools with Title I funds following them. This had been proposed in earlier versions of the bill. Under the bill as passed, the Title I funding formula will not change under ESSA.
  • As for local governance, ESSA contains specific legislative language crafted by the National School Boards Association and American Association of School Administrators in collaboration with Senate staff. That language pushes back against federal intrusion into school administration, including the development and expenditure of school budgets.
  • The new law specifically addresses potential federal reach through nonregulatory means and requires local stakeholder (school board) input at the federal level prior to issuing such guidance. This will be extremely important in the coming months since ESSA gives states and local districts more flexibility in key areas such as testing and accountability.

ESSA is a change for the better. We are optimistic that the new law will help us achieve our goal of ensuring that all students are fully engaged in the Shaker Experience.

Sincerely,
Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr., Ed.D.
Twitter: @DrHutchings
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