Update on State ESSA Plans

By: Christina Koch, NASP Manager, Professional Relations
The deadline for ESSA state plans to be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education is right around the corner! The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) allows states to gauge school performance with measures beyond test scores and affords states more flexibility with respect to funding. All states have to submit an accountability plan to the U.S. Department of Education by September 18, which includes long-term goals for student achievement. Most ESSA provisions are anticipated to be in effect for the 2017-2018 school year.

Six states' plans were approved by the U.S. Department of Education as of mid-August (Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, and New Mexico). The 10 other states that have submitted plans, along with the District of Columbia, have received some sort of formal critique from the department. The remaining 34 states are expected to submit plans next month.
NASP has created a spreadsheet that outlines how key NASP priorities are represented in the ESSA state plans that have been submitted so far. Included in this search were a variety of keywords and phrases that can be found in the spreadsheet. Social-emotional learning and school climate were more prominent terms identified in the current state plans. The spreadsheet will continue to be updated as more states submit their plans.
Through the push towards better school accountability and common standards, the nation has realized academics alone may not be enough. Students have to feel safe at school, be able to manage their own behaviors, and feel capable of achieving their academic goals. With the drive to address the needs of the whole child comes a desire from policy makers to measure these traits and integrate these characteristics into school accountability models. Having reliable measurements to track how students are performing in nonacademic areas would help schools decide if their approaches are successful.
Schools commonly use self-reported surveys, but some researchers consider such measures as unreliable for high stakes purposes, such as determining school funding. In the state plans NASP has reviewed, four states said they planned to use either student engagement or school climate as the indicator of school quality in their accountability plans. It will be interesting to see how these states choose to assess school climate and build assessment plans off of nonacademic outcomes.
NASP was pleased to see that several states so far plan to use the multitiered system of supports (MTSS) framework to continue to address academics and expand the needs of the whole child. This includes plans to maintain or increase efforts to improve school climate, mental and behavioral health, and overall student wellness. As September 18 draws near, school psychologists and state associations need to shift their focus to ensuring ESSA is implemented in an effective manner. States will provide final plans with local education agencies; however, individual school districts will be the ones responsible for putting those frameworks into action in a way that makes sense given their unique student populations. Districts are also required to develop their own plans for how they will meet their states' ESSA requirements, and stakeholder engagement will be required for district-level plans in the same way it was required for state-level plans.
In the coming months, NASP will continue to develop resources to help school psychologists effectively advocate for their role in various district-level initiatives to help insure ESSA is implemented in a manner that effectively meets the needs of all students.

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