President Barack Obama signs the Every Student Succeeds Act into law in December 2015. (Official White House photo)

As deadlines approach for states to present the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) with final draft accountability plans for implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the DC State Board of Education (SBOE) recently revisited the District’s plan, coming up with nearly a dozen recommendations for improving the proposal.

The recommendations, which impact both traditional public and charter school students, were provided on March 10 to the Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE).

“[D.C.’s plan for implementation of ESSA] will set long-term goals and strategies for citywide academic success and student support across all education sectors,” said Ward 8 SBOE member Markus Batchelor, who met earlier this month with OSSE staff, the Ward 8 Education Council and others to discuss details of D.C.’s plan which must be submitted by April 3.

“Most pertinent to the work of the board is the School Accountability Framework that will, for the first time, give families a clear picture of how well both DCPS and public charter schools are serving our students,” Batchelor said, noting that “schools will be ranked on a 5-star system based on a plethora of factors.”

He added that while Ward 8 children stand to gain the most from ESSA’s successful implementation, they also have the most to lose from lack of public participation in conversations surrounding the legislation and last minute changes to the final draft.

“We’re midstream at this point, as we haven’t seen OSSE’s final draft yet and we did have some deep concerns with the initial draft,” he said. “We’re hoping OSSE includes our recommendations of what we heard during the public engagement period on Feb. 28 where parents, students and teachers expressed what schools should be accountable for.”

ESSA mandates the development of new state accountability systems during the 2016-17 year which will be implemented in the 2018-19 term.

DOE, in accordance with the timeline set by the Obama administration, has established two deadlines this year — April 3 and Sept. 18 — for the submission of plans. D.C. lists along with 17 states that include Arizona, Delaware and Louisiana angling for the early deadline.

SBOE’s 10 recommendations include establishing task forces to measure high school growth, conducting a study on testing in DC schools, disaggregation of economically disadvantaged students and exempting students with severe impairments from taking the standardized assessment, known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

ESSA, signed into law on Dec. 10, 2015, by President Barack Obama, replaces the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, often criticized for setting unrealistic expectations for schools and students. One example: expecting 100 percent of the nation’s public school students to achieve proficiency in basic math and reading skills.

State Superintendent Hanseul Kang, unavailable for comment, explained in a community letter that DC’s plan focuses on how it will support specific groups of students and define quality schools.

“ESSA offers new flexibilities to states and opportunities for D.C. regarding supports for students and schools, teacher and leader training and evaluations and statewide student assessment,” he said. “D.C.’s plan will include these areas and a major component will address a common system for rating and reporting on all D.C. public and public charter schools.”

Meanwhile, the D.C.-based National Newspaper Publishers Association — an organization of more than 200 black-owned media outlets, received a three-year, $1.5 million grant in January from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in support of a multi-media public awareness campaign focused on ESSA-aligned educational opportunities.

“The ESSA law was established to help increase the effectiveness of public education in every state,” NNPA President and CEO Dr. Ben Chavis said in an interview with Washington Informer Senior Writer Stacy Brown.

“Our task is to inform, inspire and encourage parents, students, teachers and administrators to fulfill the intent and objectives of ESSA with special focus on those students and communities that have been marginalized and underserved by the education system across the nation,” Chavis said.

States across the country, including Maryland, Virginia, California, Michigan and Georgia, continue to fine-tune their ESSA plans in preparation for the upcoming DOE submission deadline.

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