Deciphering State ESSA Plans

Deciphering State ESSA Plans

This month, I’ve worked my way through about a dozen draft state ESSA plans to get a general picture of changes that may impact charter school authorizers.

This post dodges some of the bigger picture questions on changing student achievement goals, which will impact the entire state, and focuses only on what to look out for that uniquely impacts authorizers. Think I’m missing anything? Let me know.

Here are a few tips for authorizers who may be working their way through their own state’s plan:


What Are the assessments the same as they are now (curriculum standards and assessment vendor, i.e., PARCC)?

Will the state allow locally-selected nationally recognized assessments?

Where Section 4.1 (Accountability System), A. (Indicators). Look for listed measures for the Academic Achievement and Academic Progress indicators, then in the description to determine if locally-selected, nationally-recognized assessments will be allowed.
Why Get a feel for data availability and consistency during the transition years (present now-18/19) and when ESSA is in full effect. If your state is changing assessments, or will allow LEAs to choose from a menu of high school assessments, this may create data challenges for authorizers in the short and long term.
  • Many states are already in the middle of transitions in curriculum standards and assessments, and this ongoing transition is referenced in state plans.
  • There isn’t much new insight, changes to curriculum, or assessments so far.
  • So far, very few of the state plans will allow LEAs to choose from a menu of high school assessments, with Arizona being a notable exception.

School Improvement

What Is there anything that would prevent an authorizer from enforcing contractual accountability for a charter school identified for comprehensive or targeted support?

Is there a reference to accountability according to state charter school law?

Will the state intervene in authorizers with a significant number of persistently low-performing schools?

Where Section 4.3 (State Support and Improvement for Low-performing Schools). Look for any mention of differentiated improvement activities for charter schools, especially references to state charter school law or coordination with charter school authorizers. Read Section B, on “More Rigorous Interventions” for schools that are persistently low performing.
Why Look for the role of authorizers in accountability for low-performing charter schools. Ideally, there should be some assurance that authorizers can enforce accountability for identified schools, meaning an authorizer could close a failing charter school instead of putting it through a state-mandated multi-year turn around process. Then, look to see if the state will intervene in authorizers, in any capacity, which have a significant number of persistently low-performing schools. Regulations give states the option to incorporate pieces of authorizer accountability policies in their improvement methodology.
Trends States with an existing default closure clause for identified schools are referencing those state laws as an example of a state intervention method. Otherwise, there is very little specifically on the difference between intervention activities in charters versus traditional schools, and almost no states are incorporating authorizer accountability measures into their plans.

Areas of Outsized Impact on Charter Schools

What N-size, accountability/reporting for new schools or small schools, charters as a turn-around method
  • N-size: Section 4.1, C (Minimum number of students)
  • Accountability/reporting for new or small schools: Section 4.1, A; Section 4.1 G (Including all public schools in a state’s accountability system)
  • Charters as turn-around method: 4.1 B (More Rigorous Interventions)
Why Charters represent a disproportionate number of small schools and new schools. Policies on N-size and small/new school reporting could mean that, in practice, less performance data is available on charter schools OR lead to a skewed perception of charter school performance. Also learn if the state will be doing anything specific to support charter schools as a turnaround method.
Trends N-size seems stable in the 10-30 range, with some states using N=10 for reporting and N=20 or 30 for accountability purposes.

States are all over the map for how they will report on new schools—some will not report for the first two years, others will report as normal, and others will report and then issue an accountability rating based on only some of the accountability indicators. So far states with turnaround school districts are the only ones to explicitly reference charters as a turnaround strategy.


*An important note: the draft state plans that are currently public were largely written before the release of final Title I regulations at the end of November. States may revisit plan aspects given community feedback and any regulatory changes.

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