State, school district prepare for ESSA

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and State of Alaska are preparing to institute new requirements set forth in the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, the 2015 reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act.


The most significant changes will have to be made in the areas of accountability, support systems, and assessments and standards.

“With the reauthorization of the ESSA, there are a lot of things up in the air still, so there are still a lot of uncertainties with the changes that the new law will bring,” said Christine Ermold, KPBSD Director of Elementary Education and Professional Development.

Right now, little clear direction is coming from the state level for a number of reasons, she said.

The federal ESSA Negotiated Rulemaking Committee is currently finalizing proposals that flesh out details of the law’s conditions and how states are expected to meet them.

At the same time, school districts and state governments are working with what they already know to develop plans, which must be pre-approved by the federal government, for the 2017-2018 school year when full implementation is mandatory.

Leadership in the state Department of Education and Early Development began a series of five live webinars Wednesday to engage the public in developing strategies to draft the plan. Ermold sits on the state’s 43-member advisory committee, which has already addressed a number of potential ways the new requirements could be met.

“Hopefully we will be able to gather information from individuals from across the state, and create a plan that fits not only the law but fits the needs of Alaska,” said Sondra Meredith, administrator and director for teacher certification for the department of education.

Ideally, the plan will be finished by late fall, put before the public for comment once complete, and approved by spring, said Margaret MacKinnon, Alaska’s director of assessment and accountability. Once it is submitted the federal government has 90 days to respond, she said.

There are many questions to answer, including the new flexibility states are given in certain areas of the ESSA than were allowed in No Child Left Behind.

For example, Meredith said, states now have the opportunity to have multiple tests throughout the year or one test at the end of the year to gauge student achievement.

Individual school districts can also request to use a national test such as the ACT instead of the state’s standardized assessments, and ninth through 12th graders can be tested, instead of 10th through 12th graders, which was previously allowed, she said.

The state must also decide what measures of student achievement will remain in place.

English Language Arts and mathematics standards were revised after a two-year overhaul in 2012, which the Alaska Measures of Progress test was based on, but science standards haven’t changed since 2006, Meredith said. For the most part, assessment requirements are mostly the same under the ESSA, she said.

Testing intersects with accountability, for which states must develop long-term goals aimed at all student subgroups, Meredith said. Academic indictors will still carry more weight, and 95 percent of a state’s school districts must participate, but other methods of gauging student performance, such as the the school’s graduation rate, could be used to measure success, she said.

This is something the school district has known and acknowledged for some time, Ermold said. Projects like Caring for The Kenai, putting time in to community service, can be a huge indicator for how successful a student has been throughout their academic career, she said.

“ESSA allows all of our schools to be reflected as much more than just one achievement score, so in both our rural and urban schools where we have students who are completing career credentials, those are (also) really powerful measures of the success of our schools,” Ermold said.

The department of education’s next webinar will be held from 3-4:30 p.m., Thursday, June 2.


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