After more than a year of meetings and hearings, the Minnesota Department of Education has released its draft ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) plan -- outlining a new system of school accountability and a transformational change in how the needs of schools are assessed.
Read the executive summary.
You can also download the entire plan, section by section, on the MDE website.
Minnesota's ESSA plan gives us a short time to advocate for rules that nurture strong school communities, but if classroom educators stay silent the test-and-punish crowd could seize the same opportunity to recreate the worst of the No Child Left Behind accountability system.
Our E-12 members believe the educators closest to the classroom tend to make the best decisions about education policy. With that in mind, it is time for us tell the Minnesota Department of Education what works and what doesn’t in the draft plan either in person or online. The deadline is Aug. 31.
The department developed the plan over several months of meetings with a select group of classroom educators, union staff, academic experts and other advocates, including from business groups. Education Minnesota advocated for using ESSA, or Every Student Succeeds Act, to increase education equity, give schools more credit for fulfilling the unmet needs of students, to codify the importance of well-qualified and supported educators, and other goals.
The department incorporated many of our priorities into the draft, but there’s more to do.
Students are more than a single grade or test score. The same is true of schools. We are happy Minnesota’s draft ESSA plan does not assign letter grades or numeric scores to schools – unlike plans developed in other states. We support the state's new approach evaluating schools based on five factors and using a "funnel approach" to direct extra support to the lowest-performing schools.
We also support the inclusive approach to school improvement in Minnesota’s plan. When the state identifies a school for extra support, school improvement plans require engagement with the community -- not just the administration. This new process gives more voice to all educators, parents and underserved populations.
One of Education Minnesota’s guiding principles for ESSA calls for drastically reducing the role of high-stakes testing in school accountability. We are very disappointed this plan makes no change in testing requirements. The state failed to take advantage of an opportunity to pilot alternatives to standardized assessments. The current over-reliance on test scores must end. If you agree, please tell MDE to explore alternatives.
We also want to see changes to scoring in the proposed accountability system for schools regarding the proposed proficiency score. Students who "Partially Meet Expectations" should be allocated .5 points – not zero. This reflects the consensus of the ESSA Accountability Committee and is a more accurate reflection of a student’s proficiency and the school calendar. MCA tests measure a full year of standards, but some districts administer the tests two-thirds of the way through the school year. The accountability score should take that into account.
Tiered licensure and TDE
During the development of the ESSA plan, the Minnesota Legislature significantly changed how the state will license Minnesota teachers. The new tiered licensure system does not value rigorous programs of teacher preparation as we do. In fact, the new system hides the vast differences in qualifications, preparation and content knowledge coming to our worksites. It also allows for deviations from the Teacher Development and Evaluation, or TDE, system for the teachers most likely to need it. Because ESSA focuses on student access to effective, in field and experienced teachers, the state plan must account for the new tiered licensure system.
Under the new licensure system, a new state board will issue all licenses in a content field. However not all teachers will have any demonstrated connection to the content area of their license. That may give the system flexibility, but it is not an accurate way to account for in-field knowledge. We believe the state accountability system should count all Tier I and II teachers as out-of-field unless their underlying degree or advanced credits match the content field of their license.
We believe all students, and especially students of color, deserve the most effective teachers. As a result, the draft ESSA teacher effectiveness provisions should be amended to incentivize districts to include all teachers, regardless of licensure tier in their TDE plan. ESSA’s definition of “effective teacher” relies on the application of TDE to teachers. We believe it should apply to teachers in all tiers to accurately reflect the standard.
How to comment
Between now and Aug. 31, MDE is taking public comments on the draft plan.
Email Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius your feedback. Our talking points will help you. We're also encouraging members to attend one of MDE's public meetings in the coming weeks to learn more about the plan, provide feedback and ask questions in person.
Find a public meeting near you.
Minnesota educators have a long history of using their voice to improve the quality of the education they deliver in their schools every day. We’ve seen it in campaigns for local levies, the development of local plans for TDE and Q-Comp and speaking with their local elected leaders.
Providing feedback on Minnesota's ESSA draft plan is another opportunity to improve your local school, and the state as a whole. Please continue your work for strong and welcoming public schools by submitting comments!