Changes and Puzzles in Proposed New ESSA Plan

by | Feb 25, 2019

The Kentucky Department of Education has invited public comment on proposed revisions to the state’s plan for compliance with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, widely known as ESSA. The deadline for those comments is the close of business on February 27, so here’s my quick take: three major changes being proposed and three puzzles about the plan.

Change 1: Achievement Gap Closure will not be an indicator

Achievement Gap Closure has been one of seven indicators for planned dashboard reporting on our schools. The proposed revisions will remove that Indicator, and reduce the number of ways the plan looks at student group results and presses for all groups to gain ground. Do note, however, that other provisions of the plan will still require important focus on equity.

Change 2: Student group results will be used differently in star rating decisions

Under the proposed revisions, schools will still receive ratings of one to five stars, and strong overall results will still not be enough to the highest star ratings: the highest rating will still only go to schools without significant gaps between groups. However,  the methods for considering group results will shift.

Under Kentucky’s current ESSA plan, schools can receive no more than three stars if they:

  • have a low or very low Achievement Gap Closure Indicator or
  • qualify for targeted support and improvement (TSI) based on low group results or
  • have statistically significant achievement gaps

Under the proposed revisions, only the statistically significant gaps will matter. For a school that otherwise qualified for four stars, significant gap results will drop it to three stars. A school that otherwise qualified for five stars will only get four if gaps are significant.

Change 3: An “overall performance score” will be used to identify schools for CSI.

CSI is short for comprehensive support and improvement, and it’s the approach ESSA requires for the lowest performing five percent of schools. In recent years, Kentucky has tried to avoid calculating a single number for each school, instead using complex “matrix” approaches to identify the CSI schools. The proposed revisions call for a return to that single number calculation for use in the CSI decisions, but not in the five star ratings and the indicator dashboard.

Puzzle 1: Can school ratings legally ignore group results leading to TSI?

As noted, the proposed revisions would lower schools star ratings based only on statistically significant gaps. If the Achievement Gap Closure Indicator is being abolished, that obviously has to be removed from the star rules, but  TSI is not being abolished. I think it may be a legal problem to take TSI-eligibility out the star rules. Under ESSA:

  1. “Consistently underperforming” student groups must be identified—with each state getting to define that term
  2. Schools with “consistently underperforming” groups are the ones that get TSI
  3. Schools with “consistently underperforming” groups must also be treated differently in the state rating system

Taken together, I think those three requirements mean that TSI eligibility has to matter for star ratings, and I think USED may press KDE to put that rule back in. (For readers who want to see this in the legal texts, I’ve added a citation note at the bottom of this post.)

Puzzle 2: How will these changes interact with proposed SB 175?

Senate Bill 175 was filed by Education Chair David Givens on February 12 with a committee substitute version adopted on February 21, and a floor vote possible today (February 25). That bill is designed to change the indicators, the criteria for transition readiness, and the rules for identifying schools with weak performance. If those changes or others go through, will the Department need to seek federal approval of another set of proposed revisions to our plan? Without that approval, the Department again might have to implement two sets of rules: one to obey Kentucky law and another to satisfy federal mandates.

Puzzle 3: How can educators, students, parents, and citizens keep up?

Brigitte Blom Ramsey has been teaching me the term policy churn to describe the sense that key rules are in constant flux. Just this fall, the Kentucky Board of Education passed regulatory amendments revising how the Growth Indicator will be calculated, making some paths to college readiness easier, and replacing the Opportunity and Access Indicator with a narrower School Climate and Safety version. And now, this proposal offers another set of changes and SB 175’s amendments are also under consideration.

Some of the changes may well be improvements and others may just be practical necessities.

Nevertheless, I want to say out loud that the plot is becoming very hard to follow, and the work is becoming harder to engage. I know Kentucky’s teachers and leaders want to do the work of building greater excellence and deeper equity for their students, but these ever-changing signals have to make it hard for them to develop and carry out effective plans. And I know that Kentucky parents and citizens want to partner with our schools in that work, but this continuous pattern of rapid alterations feels like a rising barrier to their understanding and mobilization.

Want to learn more or submit comments?

The Kentucky’s draft revised ESSA plan is available here, and public comments must be received by close of business on Wednesday, February 27. Comments may be faxed to (502) 564-9321, emailed to or submitted to Deanna L. Durrett, General Counsel, Kentucky Department of Education, 300 Sower Blvd, 5th Floor, Frankfort, KY 40601.

Legal source note on “consistently underperforming” in state ratings and in TSI

The main rules for state ESSA plans are in 20 USC 6311, with the important provisions for this discussion appearing in 20 USC 6311(c)(4)(C) and 20 USC 6311(d)(2. Subsection (c)(4)(C) requires a “system of meaningfully differentiating, on an annual basis, all public schools in the State,” and Kentucky’s version of that system is the star ratings. That section also says that the state system must “include differentiation of any such school in which any subgroup of students is consistently underperforming, as determined by the State.” Then (d)(2) governs targeted support and improvement, requiring state notice to districts if they have any schools “in which any subgroup of students is consistently underperforming” and then requiring TSI for those same schools.


Since 1983, the Prichard Committee has worked to study priority issues, inform the public and policy makers about best practices and engage citizens, business leaders, families, students, and other stakeholders in a shared mission to move Kentucky to the top tier of all states for education excellence and equity for all children, from their earliest years through postsecondary education.

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