Remember ESSA? Work Still Underway on State Plan

The confirmation of Betsy DeVos (and surrounding controversies) as U.S. Secretary of Education dominated news headlines and social media over the last few weeks. However, this national headline may be drowning out what’s happening locally, as Delaware continues to develop its state plan for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—a plan that will shape the framework of our school system for years to come.

Here are six things you should know about work underway in Delaware to affect education policy:

1. State-level policy decisions matter since states have autonomy and a great deal of latitude to decide how to implement federal education law, and Delaware is in the process of developing a plan. In December 2015, the education policy landscape shifted. Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act—the largest piece of federal legislating governing federal dollars that support K-12 public education. The new federal law increased local autonomy, giving states more flexibility and control over the use of federal funds. States were immediately charged with developing local state plans for the implementation of the new legislation.

2. Delaware’s planning and stakeholder engagement process began last year. Starting in the summer of 2016, the Delaware Department of Education launched a stakeholder engagement process to solicit input and feedback on Delaware’s state ESSA plan, with the intent to submit to the U.S. Department of Education in the spring of 2017. The process has involved: consultation meetings with selected stakeholder groups, community conversations, public surveys, technical discussion groups, and an ESSA Advisory Committee (created through Executive Order 62).

3. Delaware has a solid foundation to build on. The Rodel Foundation is a member of the Vision Coalition of Delaware, which produced Student Success 2025, a plan developed with input from over 4,000 Delawareans. Student Success 2015 is aligned with the ESSA provisions and requirements. It helped plant a seed about thinking more holistically about measuring student success, and we’ve seen that reflected in both the draft state plan and stakeholder feedback about how we could improve our system accountability and supports.

4. People across the state recognize the opportunity to leverage ESSA to accelerate progress in Delaware schools and are seizing opportunities to engage, and the Delaware Department of Education has incorporated feedback from the Advisory Council and other groups into the latest draft plan. For example:

  • Expanded accountability metrics to include more holistic measures of student success like chronic absenteeism, and continuing to elicit additional feedback about which proposed measures should impact accountability versus public reporting
  • Decreased the proposed n-count (the minimum number of students required for the purposes of accountability and student privacy) from 30 to 15
  • Considering ALL SCHOOLS when identifying Comprehensive Support and Improvement Schools (CSI), not just Title I schools
  • Exploring EL growth and attainment targets based on sound research

However, there are still details that need to be worked out. Just last week, The 74 published an article about the concerns of some critics (Read: In Delaware, Critics Worry That ESSA Plans Will Give Low-Performing Schools Too Much Wiggle Room).

5. Rodel has taken action to develop informational resources and partner with business, community, and teacher groups to provide meaningful feedback on draft plans.

  • Supporting stakeholder engagement efforts by publishing informational briefs and resources on the meaningful ESSA requirements that Delaware education leaders, parents, and community members should know about and discuss as the state develops is plan to implement the new law.
  • Partnering with 24 business and community organizations to collectively publish a letter providing feedback and recommendations on the first draft plan, such as holding districts accountable for the overall portfolio of schools within their management and oversight.
  • Elevating teacher voices. Six teacher leaders—members of the Rodel Teacher Council developed recommendations for policymakers and published an opinion letter encouraging fellow teachers to shape state education policy.

6. The deadline for submitting the state plan is April. It’s not too late to weigh-in. Unless new leadership at the federal and state level upset the existing timeline, the Delaware Department of Education will present a draft of the state at the March 16th State Board of Education Meeting, and submit a final draft to the U.S. Department of Education in early April.

Delaware, the U.S., and the Global Report Card: What it Means


An often-unpredictable 2016 came to a close with some status-quo scores and glimmers of promise in science for U.S. students on the Program for International Assessment (PISA), a “global report card” of student achievement.

The PISA is administered every three years to 15-year-old students around the world, assessing their knowledge and ability to think critically in math, reading and science. While student success is about more than just test scores, PISA performance is one of the few benchmarks we have for comparing school systems globally.


Why do we care about the “global report card?”

PISA performance is a bellwether for a country’s economic potential and global competitiveness. Research shows us a strong relationship between school quality and economic growth, as investments in quality public education often translate into workforce quality and fuel for economic growth. Given America’s typical middle-of-the-pack performance, we can view this correlation as an opportunity to cash in on the benefits of education for individuals and society by raising our academic performance to the level of global leaders like Finland, Japan, and Singapore. We can also view it as a threat to America’s economic wellbeing. In the words of the Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report: “The United States’ failure to educate its students leaves them unprepared to compete and threatens the country’s ability to thrive in a global economy and maintain its leadership role.”

Evidence of equity and excellence. Top performing education systems like Canada, Denmark, Estonia, or Hong Kong (China) achieve high levels of performance and equity in education outcomes, dispelling the myth that equity means sacrificing excellence. There may be opportunities to learn from some of these top-performing education systems as the U.S. continues to struggle with equity and chronic opportunity gaps.

How did U.S. teens measure up to international peers?

Status quo scores in reading and science, with a dip in math. On the whole, there wasn’t anything stunning or shocking about U.S. PISA scores. Among the 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)—comprised of America’s economic peers—U.S. performance in reading and science remained about average, but below average in math. In terms of overall ranking among the 72 participating countries, the U.S. remains close to the middle across all subjects.


The buzz about increased equity in science. While not much has changed in terms of overall student achievement in science, the U.S. has received a lot of attention for narrowing the equity gap. According to the OECD analysis of the influence of socio-economic factors on student performance, equity has improved drastically in the U.S. since 2006—leading other countries in its rate of progress. That being said, the U.S. remains only slightly above average in overall equity and performance in science, as countries like Canada and China continue to demonstrate that leading global education systems can achieve both.


What does U.S. performance mean for Delaware?

We can’t compare apples and oranges. Delaware students don’t take the PISA, and any attempts to compare Delaware to international peers based on statewide assessment results (like the SAT) would be invalid since they test different skills, knowledge, and student populations.

We can make an educated guess by using U.S. results as a proxy for Delaware’s global competitiveness. Given that Delaware students performed on par with students nationally on the NAEP, our best guess is that it is likely that U.S. results on the PISA reflect how Delaware students would perform if Delaware administered the assessment. Massachusetts’ leading performance on both the NAEP and PISA suggests that if Delaware could surpass Massachusetts, we would rank among the top 10 global education systems. This hypothesis is supported by an analysis by Erik Hanushek, cross-walking states’ 2012 NAEP results and countries 2011 PISA scores.


Student Success 2025: A Path Forward for Delaware

The Student Success 2025 plan outlines several measures of success, including  NAEP. At the end of the day, academic achievement is just one of them. In order to become a national and global leader in education, we must ensure Delaware children are prepared with the skills and attributes to thrive beyond by implementing Delaware’s vision for education—Student Success 2025.

The 2016 progress report highlights important progress from pre-k through postsecondary, and outlines short-term priorities for progress moving forward. Learn more about Student Success 2025 and Delawareans’ big ideas for implementation.


Is Delaware Underserving High-Achieving Students?

Last week, the Fordham Institute released a report examining the extent to which states’ current (or planned) accountability systems serve high-achieving students. Delaware earned a rating of 1 out of 4 stars, suggesting room for improvement. Here’s our take.

What does this mean for Delaware?

There *is* room for Delaware (and other states) to improve. Delaware placed in the bottom half of state systems rated along Fordham’s indicators. However, this isn’t just a matter of Delaware lagging behind other states. In terms of education and U.S. Global competitiveness, PISA results show the U.S. lags behind peer countries overall and in terms of top performers—the kids scoring at the highest levels of achievement on the PISA.blueprint

Delaware could do more to maximize the potential of all students through Personalized Learning. The Rodel Teacher Council has made recommendations on how Delaware could develop a world-class education system in which students’ instruction is tailored to their specific academic needs, personal interests, and distinct learning styles.

Don’t panic—Delaware got low marks, but not for its comprehensive accountability system. The Fordham Institute evaluated Delaware across four indicators, focused specifically on how Delaware’s accountability system prioritizes high achievers, in terms of student achievement—student performance and growth on the statewide assessment. The report did not set out to evaluate how states measure overall student success, including the growth of high-need students or other, non-test-based measures of student success (like student absenteeism, graduation rates, etc.).

How does Delaware measure student success?

No more “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP).  Delaware’s accountability system has evolved over the past decade, in accordance with federal law. Delaware no longer measures student success under the test-driven system that required “all students (100 percent) must meet standards on the state assessments in reading and math by 2013-14.”

Moving toward a more holistic measure of student success. A few years ago, operating under a federal waiver providing relief from the 100-percent mandate, the Delaware department of education began to develop the Delaware School Success Framework, focusing on indicators of academic achievement, growth, on-track-to-graduation, and college/career preparation.

Delaware School Success Framework (2015-16)

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There are still opportunities to further refine the DE state accountability system. The new federal education law—the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) opened up new opportunities for stakeholder engagement and local leadership. As Delaware works to develop its state plan for ESSA, this is an opportunity to consider additional research-based indicators of student success (e.g. chronic absenteeism).

How can I get involved?

A few ways to provide input. As part of the Delaware Department of Education’s efforts to engage stakeholders across the state in providing input on issues such as how the state should measure school success and public reporting. Here are just two opportunities to provide input on how Delaware measures student success:

  1. Attend a Community Conversation in September or mid-November and share your thoughts
  2. Take the Survey and recommend measures of student success

What’s the Relationship Between School Quality and GDP?

Over the summer, education research wonks Eric A. Hanushek, Jens Ruhose, and Ludger Woessman published findings on the long-term economic impact of school improvement. This study draws a direct connection between school quality and economic growth, adding to a body of evidence demonstrating the benefits of education for individuals and society.

Here’s our CliffsNotes review of what you should consider before jumping to conclusions, and a few summative takeaways:


What should you consider before jumping to conclusions?

  • Quantity and quality of schooling are used to calculate an individual’s labor and market skills. The authors combine quantity of schooling with a measure of knowledge capital (i.e. NAEP – the national’s report card on student achievement).
  • Strong correlation between test scores and economic growth. Differences in achievement attainment account for 20-35 percent of variation in per-capita GDP among states.
  • Big dollar figure estimates are:
    • Based on an 80-year projection. The authors estimated long-term economic impact based on the assumptions that educational reform would take 10 years to implement and another 50+ years to cycle through workforce.
    • Assume multistate impact. That is to say, economic impact increases as other states also engage in reform; while the majority of workers remain in-state, some move out of state and impact the economies of other states.


What can we say?

1. We can make general statements about the link between improved quality of education and economic growth. For example:

  • Investments in the quality public education translate into workforce quality and fuel economic growth.
  • The future of our workforce and state economy is tied to the academic achievement and educational attainment of our students.

2. We can also summarize the Delaware-specific findings into a wonky, but technically accurate statement:

  • According to the findings of researchers Hanushek, Ruhose, and Woessman, if Delaware and the nation raise student achievement to match the best state (MN), the projection indicates Delaware would see economic gains of upwards of $309B (407 percent of current GDP) over the next 80 years (2095).