A Response to the Final USDOE ESSA Regulations

Below are two letters I wrote this week in response to the release of the final ESSA regulations on testing, accountability, and school improvement.

The first letter was sent to members of the Ohio Senate Education Committee, urging the creation of a Statewide ESSA task force and presenting them with a number of specific policy proposals that will go a long way towards fixing issues with Ohio’s testing and accountability system.

The second letter was sent to members of the State Board of Education, urging them to be more inclusive of voices at the local level when crafting policy, in order to implementation issues to be identified and solved prior to policy adoption.  This would help end the constant change and revision process that occurs with Ohio’s education policy due to a lack of meaningful local input and the resulting unintended consequences that must be fixed.

Feel free to use either of these letters (in whole or part) if the ideas resonate with you.

Letter #1

Senator __________:

Now that the final ESSA regulations have been released by the U.S. Department of Education, work on Ohio’s ESSA plan will undoubtedly accelerate.  The final regulations continue to underscore the necessity of engaging all stakeholders in the decision making process for state ESSA plans.  While significant progress has been made by ODE in engagement and outreach around ESSA in the past six months, I am still worried that the feedback will not be meaningfully incorporated into our state plan.

Enclosed you will find a letter I recently sent to all members of the State Board of Education urging the creation of a task force to vet and make recommendations on the ESSA plan for consideration by the full Board.  I continue to be concerned that the methods of collecting feedback by ODE do not bear substantial weight on final product outcomes.  Similar to the powerful results that were achieved by the Senate Testing Committee, and modeled after stakeholder groups used by USDOE in the regulation process for ESSA, a state level task force dedicated to ensuring the voices of those who must implement and live with State policy are heard is critical to the success of Ohio’s ESSA plan.  As I stated in my letter to the State Board, quality solutions are generated when all stakeholders are at the table who are affected by statewide education policy changes.

In the coming months there are a number of critical decisions that must be made that will have a significant impact on the direction of education in Ohio.  Below are recommendations for policy decisions that I believe will benefit our State and have the potential to reduce the friction that has plagued our education system for far too many years. (Please also note these closely mirror several recommendations by the Greater Cincinnati School Advocacy Network).

 

  • Utilize the flexibility from the final ESSA regulations to submit our State plan in September 2017 in order to allow for additional contemplation and input from stakeholders.
  • Incorporate the summative ratings as defined in the final ESSA regulations (comprehensive support and improvement, targeted support and improvement, and unidentified schools) and move away from a single summative  A to F rating system.
  • Move to the federal minimum amount of required standardized testing (This would require a change in ORC 3301.0710, 3301.0711, and 3301.0712), and replace the high school end of course exams with the ACT.
  • Identify a high school graduation composite score on the ACT that is lower than the current college remedial free levels (with both sets of scores disaggregated by subgroup and reported on the local report card).
  • Re-index the prep for success measure on the local report card to allow for College Credit Plus participation to be factored at an original  weight of ‘1’ instead of as a bonus index of ‘0.3’.
  • For tests in grades 3 – 8, release 100 percent of the items annually (with the exception of field test items) along with an item analysis for each test.  This practice occurred until the mid 2000’s under the old OAT/9th grade proficiency system, and the data was extremely valuable to teachers and school districts seeking to improve performance.
  • Eliminate the use of value-added scores and other student growth measures from the teacher evaluation system, and simply maintain the performance side of OTES and OPES, which is working well.
  • For the classes of 2018, 2019, and 2020, allow for students to graduate by earning 15 points across seven exams with no minimum subscore threshold.

 

Finally, I do believe that the voices of Ohioans were accurately captured in the 10 regional ESSA meetings hosted by Philanthropy Ohio.  Their white paper summarizing the feelings of the participants should be closely studied and utilized as Ohio moves forward with ESSA planning.  This report can be accessed at: https://www.philanthropyohio.org/resources/shaping-ohios-essa-plan

Thank you for taking time to consider these proposals and I look forward to continuing to partner with you as we work to shape an educational system in Ohio that serves all students well.

Respectfully,

Keith Millard
Superintendent

Letter #2

Members of the State Board of Education:

Thank you for the opportunity to speak in front of you during public session at the November 15th State Board meeting.  I recognize the number of important issues facing the Board at the November meeting and appreciated your willingness to thoughtfully listen and dialogue throughout the lengthy public participation session.

The account of the morning Standards & Graduation Requirements Committee (below) reinforced the concern I have that not enough thought has gone into the impact of the implementation of State Board policy on graduation once it reaches the local level.  The news account does an accurate job capturing the number of moving parts that are in play when trying to figure out who is on track and not on track to graduate for the Class of 2018 and beyond.  The fact that our student information system (DASL) has not yet delivered an electronic tool to aide in the calculation of graduation points speaks to the deep level of implementation concerns for students who are just over eighteen months from graduation day.

Woolard said estimates of students on-track versus not are “conservative,” and DeMaria cautioned repeatedly against jumping to conclusions based on Tuesday’s presentation because a lot of important information isn’t yet available, including data on the other two graduation pathways.

Aside from amassing exam points, student can graduate by earning a remediation-free score on the ACT or SAT, or by both passing the WorkKeys job-skills assessment and earning an industry recognized credential.

The first statewide administration of the ACT or SAT (districts choose which to administer) isn’t until spring 2017. The state likewise lacks data on students’ progress toward work credentials, and so far has little information on students’ use of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and College Credit Plus as substitutes for end-of-course exams, said Woolard. Also limited is state data on how many students will qualify for an exemption from standard graduation requirements per an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

“We are not attempting to project a graduation rate because of these limitations,” DeMaria told the board. “It’s outside our abilities at this particular time to speculate what might those numbers be.”

Source: Focus Education, Hannah News Service, November 15, 2016

While I believe that the temporary modifications to the point system proposed by Vice President Elshoff will alleviate the short term issue faced by the Class of 2018 and is an appropriate solution that will allow for a more orderly transition, there must be a process moving forward to help ensure that local districts do not continue to end up in this position each time there is major educational policy change from the State Board.

A solution I am proposing is for the creation and utilization of a task force any time there is a significant policy proposal that would impact all students across the state.  Similar to the constitution of the Senate Education Testing Committee, a task force would be comprised of State Board members, ODE staff, legislative members, local superintendents, teachers, local board members, and parents.  The focus of such a group would be to vet policy proposals and identify potential local level implementation issues and solutions prior to policy implementation.  Each task force would be convened as a work group under the appropriate State Board committee, and the work of the task force would be part of the reporting process to the entire State Board during monthly meetings at such times in which task forces are convened.  A task force such as I have outlined above would be a perfect tool to aide in the discussion and review process of the coming State ESSA plan.

I can’t help but think that if such a process had been in place for the graduation requirements, we could have avoided many of the implementation issues that are currently plaguing local districts and a smoother, more graduated rollout of the new requirements could have been jointly developed.

As I stated in my public testimony, I believe there is a big difference between the type of feedback gathered electronically and the quality of solutions generated when all stakeholders are at the table who are affected by statewide education policy changes.  If the goal is a reduction in the friction between various educational entities in the State of Ohio, a good first place to start is ensuring a process is created where meaningful input and participation is actively sought by the State Board from all end users who must ultimately enact and abide by State Board policy.

Thank you for taking the time to consider this proposal and I look forward to partnering with the State Board as we work together to improve educational outcomes for all of Ohio’s children.

Respectfully,

Keith Millard
Superintendent