The simplest way to contact your federal representatives about ESSA regulations is to use this link:
Click on the “Start Writing button.” The link will prompt you for your address, identify your representatives, and provide suggested text. You can send the suggested text, replace or modify it with your own statement, or substitute the text below.
Once you have sent your letters, if you have time, please call the office of N.C. Senator Richard Burr, who is an important member of the Senate’s Education Committee. His number is 202-224-3154.
Say that you are a constituent calling to urge Senator Burr to block problematic draft regulations for ESSA. If these regulations go into effect, they will perpetuate the problems ESSA sought to solve. Specifically, they will continue a test-and-punish approach to education by over-emphasizing standardized testing, mandating punishments not required in law, and continuing federal micro-management of schools. You can tell them to see your e-mail for specifics.
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Proposed Text for Letter to Federal Representatives
In December, parents, teachers and students across the country applauded the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which seemed to offer a way out of the federally imposed test-and-punish regime that has done so much damage to schools and education nationwide.
Unfortunately, the Department of Education’s (DoE) draft regulations intensify ESSA’s worst aspects and will perpetuate many of NCLB’s most harmful practices. The draft regulations over-emphasize testing, mandate punishments not required in law, and continue federal micro-management. By once again taking over decisions that should be made at state and local levels in partnership with local educators, parents, and students, the regulations take away the local voices that ESSA sought to restore. As proposed, the regulations will make it harder for states, districts and schools to recover from the educational damage caused by NLCB – the very damage that led Congress to fundamentally overhaul NCLB’s accountability structure and return authority to the states.
To resolve this problem, the DoE must remove or thoroughly revise several draft regulations, as explained below. If DoE fails to make the necessary changes, Congress must step in. Please inform the leaders of the Education Committees of the views of your constituents in calling for basic changes to the DoE draft regulations on accountability.
• DoE draft regulation 200.15 would require states to lower the ranking of any school that does not test 95% of its students or to identify it as needing “targeted support.” No such mandate exists in ESSA, and this provision violates statutory language that ESSA does not override “a State or local law regarding the decision of a parent to not have the parent’s child participate in the academic assessments.” (in ESSA at 1111(b)(2)(K), reinforced at 1112(e)(2)(A)). This regulation appears designed primarily to undermine the growing grassroots resistance to the overuse and misuse of standardized exams.
Recommendation: DoE should simply restate ESSA’s language allowing the right to opt out as well as its requirements that states test 95% of students in identified grades and factor low participation rates into their accountability systems. Alternatively, DoE could write no regulation at all. In either case, states should decide how to implement this provision.
• DoE draft regulation 200.18 far exceeds the limits ESSA placed on DoE actions regarding state accountability plans, at (1111(e) (1)(B)(iii). It transforms ESSA’s requirement for “meaningful differentiation” among schools into a mandate that states create “at least three distinct levels of school performance” for each indicator. This proposal serves no educationally useful purpose, and several states have indicated they oppose this provision because it obscures rather than enhances their ability to precisely identify problems and because it misleads the public (see Idaho, in Education Week, April 14, and California, in EdSource, June 12). The regulation also mandates that states combine multiple indicators into a single “summative” score for each school. As Rep. John Kline, chair of the House Education Committee, pointed out, ESSA includes no such requirement. Summative scores are reductive and opaque. They encourage the flawed school grading schemes promoted by diehard NCLB defenders. Both performance levels and summative scores would pressure schools to continue unproductive over-emphasis on raising test scores and teaching to the test.
Recommendation: DoE should drop this draft regulation. It should allow states to decide how to use their indicators to identify schools and whether to report a single score. Even better, the DoE should encourage states to drop the use of levels and summative scores, which ESSA does not require.
• DoE draft regulation 200.18 further proposes that a state’s academic (read “test score”) indicators together carry “much greater” weight than other “school quality” indicators. Members of Congress differ as to the intent of the relevant ESSA passage. Some say it simply means more than 50%, while others claim it implies much more than 50%. The phrase “much greater” is likely to push states to maximize the weight of test scores in order to win plan approval from DOE, especially since the overall tone of the draft regulations emphasizes testing.
Recommendation: The regulations should simply state that academic indicators must count for more than 50% of the weighting in how a state identifies schools needing support.
• DoE draft regulation 200.19 would require states to use 2016-17 data to select schools for “support and improvement” in 2017-18. This leaves states barely a year for implementation, too little time to overhaul accountability systems. It will have the harmful consequence of encouraging states to keep using a narrow set of test-based indicators and to select only one additional “non-academic” indicator.
Recommendation: The regulations should allow states to use 2017-18 data to identify schools for 2018-19. This change is entirely consistent with ESSA’s language at 1111(c)(4)(D) which says states are to identify “beginning with school year 2017–2018… one statewide category of schools.” It does not say states should identify schools in 2016-17 for use in 2017-18.
Finally, I am concerned that these unwarranted regulations will unhelpfully constrain states that choose to participate in ESSA’s promising “innovative assessment” program (Section 1204). This is crucial work, and should be supported rather than stifled.