RIDE forum on ESSA

WEST WARWICK — As states make the transition to new federal education legislation — specifically the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) — the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) has been hosting a series of feedback forums to get input from the community on their draft plan for implementation. Making a stop in West Warwick on Wednesday, officials from RIDE provided information and answered questions from local parents and teachers.

ESSA will be replacing the former No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which passed through Congress in 2001 and was later signed into law by then President George W. Bush in 2002. It was an update to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 that changed the field tremendously in the years that followed, increasing the federal role and changing the way schools and teachers were assessed. In December of 2015, Congress passed the ESSA to replace NCLB, and the goal of the new legislation is to shift the focus to equitable access to public education and creating a sense of shared accountability and responsibility at all levels ranging from state and district education officials all the way to teachers. Schools and faculty will still have standards to meet, but they will be evaluated in a different way.

RIDE will continue taking public feedback on ESSA through May and expect to move forward with state approval of the draft plan between June and August. They will submit the state’s draft plan to the U.S. Department of Education in September. Forums were held in Cranston, Providence, Narragansett, Newport, Cumberland and most recently West Warwick.

In the West Warwick High School Media Center on Wednesday, Deputy Commissioner for Teaching and Learning Mary Ann Snider made a brief presentation and encouraged participants to have small group discussions to talk about the different sections, which included goals, accountability and report cards; supports for educators and leaders; supports for all students and schools; and school improvement strategies.

By 2025, she explained, the state is required to increase English Language Arts and Math proficiency across the board, increase the English Proficiency of English Learners and increase overall graduation rates. Specifically, Rhode Island’s goals include things like having 3 of 4 3rd graders considered sufficient readers, to close the opportunity gaps by half and to achieve a 95 percent graduation rate statewide. Other goals include a 100% increase in diversity of educators and having 3 of 4 8th graders proficient in STEM.

School report cards will undergo some changes to include new information like school demographics, level of educator diversity and per-pupil spending among other things. Basically, schools will be measured based on a variety of data, some of which will be drawn from parents through surveys, to get picture of the different factors impacting each school.

“We look at things like, has the community invested money in their schools to keep it maintained every year, and what is the bonding capacity of the school?” said Snider. “Maybe the community puts in some money to keep it standing even year, but they have no bonding capacity and they’re in financial straights. If the school is in really bad shape and we’re talking about shared responsibility at the state, the district and the local level that’s a very different conversation. Then the state has to consider its role, and how we all work together. All of this is to provide enough information so people feel they can get engaged and ask better questions and be good representatives.”

Doug Pearson, a teacher who has served on the state’s Special Education Advisory Committee, said that he felt a stronger focus on social-emotional learning that is recognized at the federal level was something of importance to be used to further support students.

ESSA includes a more robust talent management system which looks at attracting, preparing, hiring, developing and retaining good educators and leaders at different levels. Snider said that most people start with the recruiting process but never go back to consider what they are doing to attract teachers to their school and prepare students for careers in education.

“In a survey most teachers said they hated their professional development,” Snider said. “So what can we do to help them feel engaged with opportunities for growth. How do we get people who want to stay and become district leaders. Some say they want to stay in teaching, so we want to create different pathways.”

Another part of ESSA is making sure that low-income and minority children are not served disproportionately by inexperienced, out-of-field or ineffective teachers.

“We’re not going to tag people with these labels,” Snider said. “It’s to help us look at statistics and compare, like the number of ineffective teachers in one place and how that might be impacting a school.”

Under NCLB, Snider said, education for teachers felt largely compliance-driven and the blame seemed to be misplaced, but the aspect of shared responsibility reflects the nature of a very complex education system. Poor facilities can contribute to chronic absenteeism, for example. Schools that may be targeted tend to have statistics that show they are struggling to support students in a specific subgroup for multiple years, and the subgroups will be the same as those in NCLB.

In terms of school improvement funding, Snider said roughly $3.4 million will be set aside annually for school improvement, including dissemination grants, innovation grants, and transformation support grants that will be part of a new “pot of money” called “Title IV(a)” which is essentially the collapsing of many smaller grants into one larger funding stream. Title IV(b) will continue to include grants for things like after school and summer learning.

RIDE is also seeking feedback online at ride.ri.gov and will keep their surveys open through May 15 for those who could not make the forums. The public comment period for the draft will begin on June 1. All of the feedback will be incorporated to draft the ESSA state plan to submit to the U.S. Department of Education by Sept. 18.

Follow Kendra Lolio on Twitter @kendralolio

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