Educators in the Buckeye State are proposing to take advantage of Washington deregulation to pare down on testing, set their own long term goals, and combat chronic absenteeism.
Thursday, Ohio publicly submitted its draft plan that details how the state will handle its newfound regulatory freedom. Officials say they engaged the input of over 15,000 parents, educators, and community members while putting together the proposal.
After a public comment period, state officials are aiming to submit their final plan for U.S. Department of Education approval in April.
Under a new educational law, the Department of Education still ties the receipt of federal dollars to the condition that states test their students, identify struggling schools, and measure achievement gaps.
However, Washington will no longer be issuing detailed directives on how school performance information is collected and acted upon—a shift from the pre-Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) regime.
While Ohio officials are considering changes to the state’s Common Core aligned standards that were adopted in 2010, the proposed changes are more tweaks and refinements than wholesale changes.
The pro-standards movement took high profile political beatings in the closing years of the Obama administration and during the presidential campaign. Many states, like Ohio, however, now have the more rigorous standards on the books and are not expected to go in for major repeals. While Common Core has faced extensive criticism on social media, local educators and stakeholders tend to be protective of their own state’s standards.
In their draft ESSA plan, Ohio officials reaffirmed their commitment to “a seamless set of rigorous standards from birth to grade 12.” The state also said it plans to bring its career and technical training programs into alignment with the state standards.
In unveiling the testing portion of the new plan, officials trumpeted the fact that testing time was cut in half between the 2014-2015 school year and the 2015-2016 school year. The state has two testing priorities under the draft plan: continuing to reduce test time while still complying with federal requirements and bringing stability to the types of tests the state uses.
While ESSA permits states to use the SAT or ACT to measure high school performance and career readiness, the state is electing to not go that route. Ohio is proposing to institute a “report card” for accountability. Officials would give schools and districts cumulative A-F letter grades.
A variety of categories will go into determining what schools get which grades, many of which are explicitly mandated by ESSA. The mandatory accountability categories including student achievement, graduation rates, and performance by at-risk subgroups, such as minority students or those from low-income households.
Under ESSA, each state is also required to pick at least one additional statewide measure of school quality. In their draft plan, Ohio educators are proposing to keep track of chronic absenteeism and student discipline incidents. In the draft proposal, the state set some ambitious goals for itself. By 2017, the state hopes to cut chronic absenteeism to below 5 percent, to graduate at least 93 percent of high school students in four years, and get 80 percent of all students proficient in English, math, and science.
A historically-contentious area of education policy revolves around how federal and state officials handle intervention in chronically low-performing schools.
Under Ohio’s draft plan, struggling schools—euphemistically labeled “Priority,” “Focus,” or “Watch”—are plotted along a tiered scale from those that require the most to least state intervention.
For the most problematic schools, particularly those that grade in the bottom 5 percent statewide, those that fail to graduate a third of their students in four years, or those that have serious difficulties with one or more at risk “subgroups,” the state’s Academic Distress Commission would take over supervision.
In less severe cases, the state proposes providing districts with “intensive” or “moderate” supports.
The state plans to reevaluate school and district performance statuses every three years.
Another interesting tidbit from the Ohio draft plan is that the state is reducing the number of students of one type enrolled in a school that triggers special “subgroup” status for those students from 30 to 15. Therefore, under the proposed plan, if a school enrolls 20 homeless students, or children from military families, or young people in the juvenile system, that school will have to start disaggregating data on that group of students and report their performance in comparison to the general student body.
In the proposal, Ohio officials also described new efforts designed to address credit recovery and dropout prevention, to better engage rural districts, and to build a task force to review the state’s teacher evaluation system.
The ESSA draft proposal comes heels of Republican Gov. John Kasich’s budget proposal to lawmakers. In a speech, Kasich said tough state finances would force a slowing in the growth of the state education department’s $10.6 billion budget.
The public is invited to review and comment on the state’s proposed ESSA plan through March 6.