Update on Development of Minnesota’s New ESSA Accountability Plan

Work on Minnesota’s new state accountability plan, as required under the recent Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), continues. Given the complexity of the plan development process, and our desire to give a thorough yet still high-level update, this post is longer than usual.

Timeline for Plan Development

As a refresher, Minnesota Department of Education’s (MDE) timeline for the new accountability plan development is:

  • July through November 2016—MDE convenes various committees to develop the State’s plan and conducts various stakeholder meetings around the state to collect feedback.
  • December 2016 and January 2017—MDE drafts the actual plan document and presents it for public comment in January.
  • January and February 2017—MDE reviews public comment and revises the plan accordingly, and also runs the plan by the Governor’s Office.
  • March 6, 2017—MDE submits the final version of the plan to the United States Department of Education (USDE).

Two Primary Committees

Consistent with the timeline, at the end of July, MDE formed and began meeting with two committees (referred to collectively by MDE as the “Accountability Committees”):

  • The Technical Committee—composed of 16 experts in data and measurement—will help advise on the details of the plan. They will meet a total of 12 times.
  • The Advisory Committee—composed of about 70 educators, administrators, advocates, parents, students, and nonprofit leaders—will give general direction to and feedback on the plan development. They will meet a total of 7 times.

A subcommittee on school quality/student success (SQ/SS) indicator(s)—composed of a subset of 22 members from the Advisory Committee—was formed in late August to focus on the new indicator(s) required under ESSA (more on this later).

Additionally, beginning in late September MDE will be convening three additional subject-specific committees: an Assessment Committee; an Educator Quality Committee; and a School Improvement Committee.

In parallel with the committee work, MDE will also be conducting a series of stakeholder engagement sessions throughout the state, primarily in October.

Issues Discussed in Committees

As we’ve written previously, in practice the ESSA law text and USDE’s draft regulations governing it are quite prescriptive about what must be in each state’s accountability plan. States must include indicators on: progress in English language learner (ELL) proficiency; proficiency in reading and mathematics; another academic indicator for elementary and middle schools; graduation rates for high schools; and at least one indicator of school quality/student success.

The prescriptiveness of ESSA has meant that the discussion in MDE’s committees has focused on a couple of key questions that are within the realm of state decision making. Topics of focus have been: the weights that will be attached to each of the indicators in the state’s accountability system; which SQ/SS indicator(s) will be used; and how graduation and dropout ratings will be calculated.

School Quality/Student Success (SQ/SS) Indicator

The question of which SQ/SS indicator or indicators the state will use has dominated committee meetings, first emerging at the initial Advisory Committee meeting on August 2nd. MDE found that the Committee favored four possible SQ/SS indicators:

  • School climate and safety
  • Student engagement
  • Access to student support services
  • Work readiness and postsecondary readiness

As described above, in late August MDE asked Advisory Committee members to volunteer to form a SQ/SS subcommittee to discuss these indicators further. During the first two subcommittee meetings, MDE pointed out that many of the SQ/SS indicators the Advisory Committee had favored were not feasible, due to the lack of data available.

Another data issue has been lag time. The data used in the current accountability system is from the year prior, and data from the Statewide Longitudinal Education Data System (SLEDS) is even older. The accountability plan that MDE will submit to USDE in March must include data that MDE currently has access to because the plan has to be implemented for the 2017-18 academic year.

Given these restrictions, the two SQ/SS indicators that the subcommittee presented back to the full Advisory Committee on September 15th were:

  • Student chronic absenteeism for elementary, middle and high schools.
  • School’s student participation rates in Advanced Placement (AP) courses, International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, Career and Technical Education (CTE), and Concurrent Enrollment.

The Advisory Committee voted in majority to present both measures to the Technical Committee. The Technical Committee will meet again on September 23rd and the SQ/SS subcommittee will meet again on September 26th, to start to craft a long-term plan for the state’s SQ/SS indicators.

Graduation Rates and Dropout Recording

In addition to the SQ/SS indicator(s), the committees have also discussed the issue of dropout assignment. Currently, if a student drops out of school it is counted against the school that the student most recently attended. Under ESSA, there is the option to instead assign a dropout to the school that the student attended for the majority of their high school career. This would only be applicable if the student had attended the high school that they dropped out of for less than half a year (~85 days). A majority (69 percent) of the Advisory Committee favored assigning dropouts to the school where that the student had attended for the most amount of time.

Graduation rates and goals have been another topic of conversation. Under Minnesota’s current accountability system, the Multiple Measurements Rating (MMR), schools are primarily scored on whether they have reached the state’s 90 percent graduation rate goal. One of the alternative approaches discussed, and now possible under ESSA, would be to score a school based more on progress from their starting graduate rate.

There has also been discussion about whether to include 7-year graduation rates in the accountability plan. Currently, Minnesota includes only 4-, 5-, and 6-year graduation rates. The rationale for also including a 7-year graduation rate is to better align the state’s system with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Under IDEA, students with disabilities are entitled to services until the end of the school year follow their 21st birthday.

World’s Best Workforce Alignment

On September 15th, Commissioner Cassellius presented the Advisory Committee with a proposal about possibly aligning the indicators in the state accountability plan with the 2013 World’s Best Workforce (WBWF) legislation. According to the Commissioner, aligning the two would put more accountability with the district, rather than at the the school level, and would also provide more targeted support to the districts. There was a lot of interest in doing this from the Advisory Committee, but specifics about how it would work are yet to be discussed.

Education Evolving will continue to follow and report on ESSA implementation in the coming months. For more information about the committee meetings, which are open to the public, and MDE’s ESSA implementation plan, visit their website.

Lars Esdal contributed to this post.

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