MDE Wraps Up ESSA Committees and Prepares for Implementation

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) held the last meeting of their Reporting and Recognition Committee, which was formed after MDE submitted the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan to the US Department of Education (USDE) in September 2017.

The Committee was formed because there were a couple of key components that did not have to be finalized by the September submission deadline—namely, school recognition and data reporting—but on which MDE needed to receive stakeholder input. In order to get feedback in these two areas, MDE created two Subcommittees of the Reporting and Recognition Committee that met from December 2017 to April 2018:

  • Dashboard and Data Reporting
  • School Recognition

MDE also formed a third subcommittee—School Quality or Student Success (SQ/SS) Indicators—in order to obtain stakeholder input regarding possible future measures that could be included in their SQ/SS indicator when MDE goes through the process of identifying schools for support again in 2021.

This post will discuss the recommendations from each Subcommittee, how Minnesota will deal with a new ESSA provision around fiscal transparency, and some important dates regarding implementation.

Review: Minnesota’s ESSA Plan

On January 10, 2018 USDE approved Minnesota’s ESSA plan. One of the main purposes of the plan is to describe how MDE will identify public schools for support. Specifically, MDE will identify schools for Comprehensive School Improvement (CSI) and Targeted Support in the summer of 2018, and notify them in the fall of 2018. In their executive summary, MDE estimates that they will “identify and support between 300 and 400 schools, much more than under our No Child Left Behind Waiver.”

As a reminder, MDE will use a three stage decision process (formerly known as the “funnel approach”) to identify the bottom 5 percent (about 50) of Title I schools for CSI. Additionally, about 167 schools will be identified for Targeted Support, which is any public school with one or more student groups performing similarly to the bottom 5 percent of Title I schools or any consistently underperforming student group. Finally, MDE estimates that about 246 public high schools will receive support for having a four year graduation rate below 67 percent. You can read more about the Minnesota’s ESSA plan and the three-stage decision process here.

School Quality or Student Success Indicators Subcommittee

As we’ve previously written, due to data limitations, in the final plan MDE submitted to USDE, MDE was only able to use consistent attendance (i.e. chronic absenteeism) for their SQ/SS indicator. However, as MDE continues to develop their data systems, there are other possible SQ/SS indicators that can be added in the future.

The SQ/SS Indicators Subcommittee was charged with providing input about possible measures that had been previously discussed in ESSA committees: well-rounded education, career and college readiness, and school readiness.

According to MDE, the vast majority of the Subcommittee expressed “some level of discomfort” with using existing measurement tools for all three possible measures. With that said many of the Subcommittee participants’ “willingness to support these measurements would depend on how several specific details were resolved.”

Another consideration MDE noted was that the Subcommittee expressed interest in reporting more data around these three measures in the state’s future school report card or dashboard, as well as using the data to recognize schools/districts for success.

In the end, the recommendation from the Subcommittee, albeit reluctantly, was to not add any new measures to the SQ/SS indicator for when MDE identifies schools again in 2021. However, the Subcommittee also said that, as MDE improves the quality and range of data they collect, they wanted to revisit the conversation.

School Recognition Subcommittee

The School Recognition Subcommittee had little to no universal agreement regarding what schools and districts should be recognized for. Some participants wanted a wide range of things for school recognition, while others wanted only a couple of areas of acknowledgement. However, MDE did recognize a few priorities they had frequently mentioned:

  • Recognition should include some combination of academic indicators (growth, proficiency, graduation rates, etc.).
  • Include areas beyond academic indicators for recognition.
  • Recognize both overall performance and the performance of specific student groups.

There were several ideas for both academic and non-academic areas that districts and schools could be recognized for. A few of the suggestions for academic recognition areas were:

  • Achievement Gap Closer: Schools that are doing an excellent job with raising the academic success of their student groups who have been traditionally underserved and closing the achievement gap.
  • Most Improved: Schools that had previously been identified for support by MDE and then, after the three years before re-identification, are no longer recognized for needing support.
  • Academic All-Star: Top X% of schools/districts using the three-stage decision process.

A few of the suggestions for non-academic recognition areas were:

  • Ready for Kindergarten
  • Well-Rounded Education
  • Rigorous Coursework
  • Credit and Dropout Recovery

Importantly, measures like “well-rounded education” and “rigorous coursework” can be included in the recognition system, but not as a SQ/SS measure. This is because SQ/SS measures have to be able to be measured and compared across all schools in Minnesota and to be broken down by student group. Recognizing schools and districts for their accomplishments does not have to abide by these same standards.

Dashboard and Data Reporting Subcommittee

In addition to the Dashboard and Data Reporting Subcommittee, MDE also received input from focus groups across the state, survey forms, IdeaScale online forum, and they are also doing ongoing public reporting feedback sessions.

From the feedback, MDE found that in the current reporting system, participants do not like the lack of context or explanation around the data, the graphs, and the jargon.

According to MDE, from the feedback, some of the common things that participants would like to see in the new reporting system are:

  • Printable, one-page summary information with good data visualization
  • Graphs and charts with helpful and clear labels
  • Give schools a chance to tell their story
  • Staffing profiles and student survey information
  • Easier ways to make comparisons across and within schools

A Little Known, But Significant Provision in ESSA Related to Reporting: Fiscal Transparency

ESSA requires the state report card for schools to now include “the per-pupil expenditures of Federal, State, and local funds, including actual personnel expenditures and actual nonpersonnel expenditures of Federal, State, and local funds, disaggregated by source of funds, for each local educational agency and each school in the State for the preceding fiscal year.”

In other words, this is the first time that USDE requires districts to break out school-level spending, and it has to be done by December 2019. According to a February 2018 Education Week article, this is a level of detail that is “unknown even to most district superintendents.”

Fortunately, this type of reporting isn’t entirely new to Minnesota. Rather, since the 1970s Minnesota has developed and refined a uniform financial accounting and reporting standards (UFARS) system that looks at instructional, support service, and administrative expenditures at each building. Because of the UFARS systems, according to MDE, they have the ability right now to satisfy ESSA’s minimum reporting requirements.

Timeline for ESSA Implementation in Minnesota

By August 30, MDE will release the list of schools that have been identified for CSI and Targeted support. Additionally, by December 31, an ESSA compliance date, MDE must update their reporting system with the most recent information for the 2017-18 academic year.

MDE will also continue to develop their new reporting system throughout the 2018-19 academic year, but how much they do is dependent on how much funding they receive from the legislature.

Education Evolving will continue to follow and report on Minnesota’s ESSA state accountability plan, as well as relevant education policy topics related to ESSA nationally.

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