ESSA Final Regulation Issued: What Authorizers Need to Know

The US Education Department has issued its final rule governing state accountability plans. This rule will guide how states will hold K-12 schools accountable under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Authorizers should keep in mind that the President-elect and new Congress may have a different vision for ESSA implementation, and this could change the lifespan and implementation of these regulations. NACSA will be following this closely to ensure the needs of authorizers continue to be represented in the future.

Here are five things authorizers should know about the final regulations.

1.) The final rule reinforces that state accountability should not get in the way of authorizer-driven accountability.

NACSA had asked for guidance and changes to clarify that state accountability does not get in the way of—or diminish—charter contract accountability by authorizers. The rule now makes it crystal clear that, in accordance with state charter law: (1) authorizers retain their authority to enforce accountability; and (2) if a state chooses to close a charter school as part of its state-designed improvement strategy, it must consult with the authorizer.

2.) The final rule provides examples of specific authorizer accountability interventions that states may choose to adopt, which are consistent with NACSA’s recommendations.

States may choose to create a system to intervene if an authorizer has a significant number of schools identified for comprehensive support. NACSA sought to eliminate this option as it could lead states to confuse the accountability role of the authorizer with the support role of a traditional LEA.

While this option remains in the final rule, the Department added important text to provide examples of the types of distinct interventions that can be appropriate for authorizers. These sample authorizer interventions focus on monitoring, limiting, or revoking the authority of low-performing authorizers—proposals that align with our state policy recommendations on authorizer accountability systems. This is an important change, as it makes it less likely that states that choose to pursue such a policy will lump authorizers and traditional school districts into the same intervention mechanisms, which could have resulted in SEAs meddling in the actual work of authorizing.

The changes alleviated some of NACSA’s concerns, but it is still up to states to design appropriate intervention systems. Authorizers in states that are considering such an intervention policy should stay active to ensure any planned authorizer accountability polices are appropriate.

3.) Authorizers will need to work with their State to make new charter school data useful.

The final rule includes a state-level reporting requirement for charter schools. The state will be required to publicly report, for each authorizer, data on the academic performance and enrollment of each charter school in the authorizer’s portfolio as compared to a to-be-defined group of schools or LEAs. It is up to each state to determine the appropriate comparison pool between traditional public schools and charter schools.

The accompanying guidance note that states should work with the charter school community and authorizers to “determine the appropriate comparison.” If done well, this new comparative data could give authorizers a free, reliable piece of information to use in high-stakes decision making.

Be sure to reach out and engage your SEA to ensure this new data point is thoughtfully put together and will be valuable to authorizers in your state.

4.) States will have the option of using an adjusted cohort graduation rate for alternative education campuses (AECs), to help prevent AECs from being over identified on state rankings.

The final rule clarifies that states may choose to use an adjusted five- or six-year adjusted cohort graduation rate to determine if an alternative or dropout recovery school’s graduation rate is 67 percent or less, for the purpose of identifying the lowest five percent of schools in the state. States that choose to use this flexibility should be able to keep AECs from being inappropriately identified as failing schools. This also creates a more useful accountability metric for AECs.

5.) Authorizers may see one additional year of data instability, as the final regulation pushed the implementation timeline back.

The timeline to submit state plans for Title I compliance was pushed back by a month in the final regulation (to April or September), and the identification of priority schools was pushed back by a year, making 2018-19 the first year low-performing schools must be identified. Although we can’t be sure what this new timeline will mean for data availability in every state, authorizers should prepare for an additional year of data unpredictability. This will likely impact data from the current 2016-17 school year.

The implementation of ESSA and this final rule will fall under the next administration. NACSA will continue to work with the Department of Education, congressional leadership and the president-elect’s transition team as this work progresses. We will keep you updated as more information becomes available.