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Educators Voice a Vital Part of Oregon's New State ESSA Plan

By Andrea Shunk


On Thursday, March 23, the Oregon State Board of Education reviewed Oregon's Consolidated State Plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The board will vote on whether or not to approve the plan at their April 27 meeting.

The Oregon consolidated plan lays out a framework for the state’s schools, and particularly lays out major changes to the state’s school accountability system and how Oregon will support schools with an opportunity to grow. Under No Child Left Behind, the predecessor to ESSA, schools were labeled as failing or not failing based solely on reading and math test scores, and test participation.

ESSA ends the NCLB era of test-and-punish school accountability and returns decision making back into the hands of those who know students best — families, communities, and educators — while keeping the focus on students most in need.

The Oregon Department of Education has spent the past 15 months meeting with a wide range of stakeholders to gather input and feedback on how Oregon will reimagine  education. OEA governance, staff , and members were key groups ODE consulted.

OEA member involvement was broad, including:

  • Attending ODE community forums in Spring 2016 and Winter 2016-17;
  • Participating in the 2016 OEA Education Symposium on accountability;
  • Nearly 30 members and OEA staff  sat on the four ESSA technical workgroups – standards and assessment, educator effectiveness, school and district improvement, and accountability;
  • OEA Governance and members giving input as part of the ODE ESSA Advisory Team;
  • Members testifying at the State Board of Education meetings;
  • And ODE reaching out to specific teacher groups that included librarians specialized instructional support personnel and education support professional.

Additionally, the final proposed ODE plan reflects the comments and suggestions OEA members made. These include adding a resource review to the state Comprehensive Needs Assessment, and elevating access to a well-rounded education as a key component of school quality and student success.

The Oregon consolidated plan under ESSA is a significant shift from the past 15 years of education under No Child Left Behind. This article will highlight some of the biggest changes. You can access the plan online at www.oregon.gov/ode/rules-and-policies/ESSA or send your questions to OEA staff  in the Center for Great Public Schools at oea-essa@oregoned.org

School Accountability Systems

The federal law requires states to develop accountability systems that include:

  • Academic achievement in math and reading/English language arts as measured by a statewide summative assessment;
  • Academic progress in middle and elementary schools;
  • High school graduation rates (as measured by the four-year cohort graduation rate);
  • English language proficiency;
  • And at least one indicator of school quality and student success.

OEA and NEA celebrated the inclusion of the school quality and student success indicators in ESSA. This shift recognizes that school success goes far beyond math and reading achievement and includes things like attendance, school climate, and access to a well-rounded education. NEA promoted this through the Opportunity Dashboard.

Oregon’s plan proposed dividing the accountability indicators into four categories (see chart at right).

Additionally, each school district would have to report on rates and disproportionality in exclusionary discipline as part of the Opportunity to Learn category, and indicators in well- rounded education category.

Many stakeholders, including many OEA members, gave ODE input that measures of a well-rounded education should be a part of the accountability system, and not just reported. ODE’s report says the department will work with stakeholders to better define access to learning opportunities as an indicator. 

Well-Rounded Education

No Child Left Behind’s narrow focus on math and reading test scores had disastrous effects on student access to a well-rounded education. Schools and districts, desperate to avoid a failing label, doubled down on math and reading instruction. P.E., libraries, social studies, science, recess, music, the arts are more were left behind and students suffered. The economic downturn of 2008 further eroded the full programs our schools once had.

ESSA changes the focus, and clearly and purposefully defines and elevates access to a well-rounded education as vital to student success. The new Title IV program, student support and enrichment grants, specifically provides funds to provide all students with access to a well-rounded education.

The proposed Oregon plan has a similar focus.“Extending the Promise of a Well- Rounded Education” is listed on one of four opportunities the state has identified that if realized, will better serve Oregon’s students. Key areas of the plan that directly address increasing access to a well- rounded education are:

  • Including equitable access to a well-rounded education as a mandatory component of the Comprehensive Needs Assessment local districts will complete;
  • Requiring local plan to develop and implement a well-rounded program of instruction;
  • And detailing how the state would use Title IV federal grant funds.

The Oregon Music Education Association, the Oregon Art Education Association, and the Oregon Association of School Libraries joined with OEA in calling for access to a well-rounded education to be used as an accountability measure in Oregon’s system, not just a reporting indicator.

OEA will continue to advocate for this because students deserve full programs that inspire their natural curiosity, imagination, and desire to learn. For too many students in Oregon, their access to subjects like art, music, and more, is dictated by their zip code.

Educator Evaluations

Senate Bill 290 passed in 2011 and overhauled Oregon’s educator evaluation system in order for the state to get a waiver from NCLB requirements. The system under SB 290 required teachers who teach in tested grades and subjects to include student test scores from the statewide summative evaluation as a part of their evaluation. Oregon also developed the Oregon Matrix, a uniform process to assign a summative evaluation score to all Oregon educators.

ESSA eliminated the federal role in educator evaluations, meaning the U.S. Department of Education can’t mandate any portion of a state’s evaluation system, or even mandate that a state has an evaluation system.

Oregon’s plan proposes making it optional to include student test scores. In fact, ODE made the use of state test scores optional starting in the 2015-16 school year. The state plan would make this change permanent. The state plan acknowledges that Oregon educators nd the Oregon Matrix problematic. ODE will convene a work group, which will include OEA members, to determine the future of the Oregon Matrix.

Next Steps

The State Board of Education will vote on the proposed Oregon plan at the April 27, 2017 meeting. The Oregon Department of Education plans to submit the plan to the U.S. Department of Education by May 3. ODE officials will meet with targeted stakeholders in April to finalize specific portions of the plan.

Once Oregon submits its plan, the U.S. Department of Education has 120 days to respond to the plan. ODE officials expect the plan to go in to effect for the 2017-18 school year.

OEA President Hanna Vaandering testified at the March 23 State Board of Education and called on the board to make access to a well-rounded education an accountability indicator, to work toward a more balanced system of assessment, and to reduce the weight of testing participation rates in the state plan.

You can submit your concerns and questions to ODE at ESSA.Oregon@state.or.us or OEA’s Center for Great Public Schools at oea-essa@oregoned.org.

Members can also stay updated about Oregon’s plan at www.oregoned.org/essa. The OEA website includes several resources you can use at the local level to use ESSA as a tool to organize for the schools our students deserve. Now is always the time to advocate for high quality teaching and learning conditions for students. 

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