New Federal Education Law Gives State Policymakers Chance to Improve Opportunity for All Students — But Risks Retreat from High Standards and Meaningful Accountability
New York, NY — A dozen major civil rights, education, parent, and business organizations from across New York State released a policy brief today that makes detailed recommendations for how New York State can seize the opportunities provided by the new federal education law, the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA), to create a strong state accountability system that maintains high standards, prioritizes closing achievement and opportunity gaps, ensures transparency, and provides the urgency and sustained support to address schools that are consistently underperforming for any group of children.
The brief, Toward Justice for All? The Opportunities and Risks for Educational Equity in New York State Under ESSA, is cosigned by an unprecedented coalition including the Buffalo Urban League, The Business Council of New York State, Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, District-Parent Coordinating Council of Buffalo, Education Trust–New York, Educators 4 Excellence, High Achievement New York, National Center for Learning Disabilities, National Council of La Raza, New York Educator Voice Fellowship (America Achieves), New York Urban League, Public Policy Institute of New York State, and United Way of New York City.
ESSA, which replaced No Child Left Behind, gives states considerable flexibility to craft their own accountability systems — in the process asking states to make crucial decisions about what it means to be a successful school, what rate of academic progress is acceptable, and what to do when schools are not meeting our expectations. In the policy brief, the groups stress that ESSA’s call for states to redesign their accountability policies presents a critical opportunity to remedy New York’s education system – a system riven by massive systemic inequalities in access, opportunity and performance, especially for students of color, low-income students, students with disabilities, and English learners.
The groups recommend that state policymakers incorporate several core principles and provisions into New York’s accountability system under ESSA, including that New York State’s accountability system must:
- Ensure that academic achievement drives school performance determinations and improvement strategies. This should be done by maintaining high standards; ensuring that academic measures represent more than 75 percent of a school’s rating; and limiting the number of accountability indicators.
- Require immediate action when schools are not meeting rigorous expectations for any group of students. Ambitious performance and gap-closing goals should be set for all groups of students, and — following a needs assessment and with school district and, where necessary, state support — evidence-based strategies implemented when those goals are not met.
- Generate additional data beyond test scores in grades 3-8 and on Regents exams – including by addressing teacher equity and resource equity – to help schools improve. A holistic vision of what contributes to student success and what it means to be a quality school must be incorporated in order to inform the improvement process for schools that are not meeting expectations.
- Make families and educators full partners through transparency and inclusion. Whether or not schools are meeting expectations for all groups of students must be communicated through a single “summative” rating for every school, and families and educators must be included on an ongoing basis.
“New York’s response to ESSA will provide a window into our state’s values,” said Ian Rosenblum, Executive Director of The Education Trust–New York. “To enable all New York students to fulfill their potential, we must use this opportunity and the levers in ESSA to set clear expectations that our education system must raise achievement for all students, not just some. The stakes could not be higher.”
“The New York Urban League is excited to be working with state partners who are united for the cause of equity in education accountability,” said Arva Rice, President & CEO of New York Urban League. “Our coalition’s commitment to advancing a strong and meaningful accountability system under ESSA will help secure a first-class education for all students.”
“A student-centered focus to the development of New York State’s new accountability system under ESSA that addresses the systemic inequities that has created a separate and unequal educational system is paramount,” said Brenda McDuffie, President & CEO of the Buffalo Urban League. “For too long, inequities that largely fall along racial lines hold back too many of our children while sweeping these facts under the rug. The Buffalo Urban League stands with partners from across New York to urge state leaders to take advantage of this opportunity to improve opportunity for all New York students.”
“It is imperative to address the persistent achievement gap in New York particularly for students of color and English Learners,” said Janet Murguía, President and CEO of NCLR. “ESSA presents an opportunity for the state to advance educational equity through greater accountability that provides all students a high quality education. That is why we are standing with our partners to ensure ESSA is implemented true to its civil rights roots.”
“New York’s response to this opportunity will have an immediate and long-lasting impact on our state’s education system and our performance in relation to other states,” said Heather C. Briccetti, Esq., President & CEO of The Business Council of New York State, Inc. “The stakes are too high and our children are too important for an unsatisfactory outcome. We implore state policymakers to listen to our recommendations and put our children on the path to success.”
“Educators 4 Excellence-New York members are committed to holding our education system accountable to ensuring we deliver on our promise to provide an excellent education for all students,” said Maryanne Kiley, Executive Director of E4E-NY. “We are proud to have worked with such a strong coalition to develop these recommendations, which we believe will serve all students in the true spirit of ESSA as civil rights legislation.”
“These recommendations include the voice of teachers and incorporate their experiences and expertise,” said Mary Conroy Almada, Program Manager of the New York Educator Voice Fellowship. “If New York State follows the path we have proposed, ESSA can have a significant positive impact on improving outcomes for all students in New York.”
“The Every Student Succeeds Act provides an opportunity to rethink our educational system to ensure that all students have the tools to succeed,” said Mimi Corcoran, President & CEO of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. “For the 1 in 5 children with learning and attention issues, this marks a pivotal moment and the creation of our education policies — including new accountability systems — must reflect our high expectations for all students.”
“The new flexibility under ESSA can help strengthen New York’s high learning standards and assessments — giving teachers new tools, resources and improvements to help New York’s 2.6 million public school students achieve success,” said Stephen Sigmund, Executive Director of High Achievement New York. “But let’s be clear — opponents of New York’s standards will try to use this flexibility to undermine all of the hard work by teachers in classrooms around the state over the past five years. That would be a direct attack on this progress and on low-income communities and communities of color that need our standards and assessments the most, and it can’t be allowed to happen.”
The groups’ recommendations are backed by data analyses that illustrate the need to improve student achievement and college and career readiness. Fewer than 2 in 5 students in grades 3-8 score at a proficiency level that indicates they are prepared for college, and significant achievement and opportunity gaps persist for low-income students, students of color, English learners, and students with disabilities. In calling for a strong accountability system under ESSA, the policy brief also analyzes:
- Gaps in graduation rates for students of color and low-income students – especially when it comes to receiving a Regents Diploma or Regents Diploma with Advanced designation, which indicates advanced course-taking and the highest level of academic preparedness for college;
- Gaps in student achievement on science assessments, which grow by 8th grade — when students are preparing for college-prep coursework in high school;
- Student suspensions, which make students more likely to experience worse educational outcomes and are disproportionately handed down to African American students and students with disabilities;
- The effect of chronic absenteeism, which impacts more than 1 in 7 students outside of New York City; and
- “Invisible” student groups, who are discounted for being below the minimum “n-size,” the threshold for the number of students in a particular group that have to be enrolled in order to count as their own-subgroup for reporting or accountability purposes.
About The Education Trust–New York:
The Education Trust–New York works to eliminate the gaps in equity, opportunity, and achievement that hold back too many students from reaching their full potential, especially those who are low-income or students of color, in order to enable all students in New York state to achieve at high levels — from early childhood through college. Learn more at www.EdTrustNY.org.