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An Independent Review of ESSA State Plans

By Elizabeth Cryan Photography with permission from Donnell-Kay Foundation at Rocky Mountain Prep school

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An Independent Review of ESSA State Plans

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gives states an opportunity to rethink their systems for identifying which schools need to improve and how. States are required to submit their plans for a federal peer review process and then have approved plans in place for the 2017-18 school year.

In order to hold all states to a common, high bar and evaluate state efforts, Bellwether Education Partners and the Collaborative for Student Success will convene an objective, independent panel to peer review state accountability plans. After states submit their official plans, this panel of experts on state and federal accountability from a range of political viewpoints will give honest feedback. 

What are the goals of this project?
This project is designed to serve as an external check on the federal process, capture the strengths and weaknesses of each state’s plan, and provide feedback to state policymakers and advocates interested in enhancing school quality in their communities.

How does this review differ from the federal review?
Our review is aligned to the federal peer review process, as well as tools developed by other external groups, but it differs in important ways:

  1. Our review is focused on a select number of questions and will not cover everything in state plans. 
  2. We believe compliance with federal law is necessary but insufficient for state plans. Beyond mere compliance, we’ll also ask reviewers to assess state plans for their likelihood of success in accomplishing the state’s vision on education. 
  3. The independent nature of our process will allow the team of highly experienced reviewers to candidly assess each state plan. 

Which experts are participating in this peer review?
The panel consists of a diverse group of experts from across the political spectrum, with varying backgrounds and expertise in the education field.

Below is a full list of peer reviewers that have confirmed participation so far. Additional invites are in the field, and the list will be updated as others confirm. Click here to view peer reviewer bios, or click through to read individual bios below.

Tamara O. Alsace, Ph.D., New York State Association for Bilingual Education (NYSABE)
Elliott Asp, Achieve
Julia Rafal-Baer, Chiefs for Change
John Bailey
Tony Bennett, Education Reform Strategies, LLC
Whitney Chapa, Vice President of Education Policy and Budget, Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Dale Chu, Vice President of Policy & Operations, America Succeeds
Barbara Davidson, StandardsWork
Eric Guckian, Leadership for Educational Equity
Terry Holliday, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
Claire Voorhees, Foundation for Excellence in Education
Lindsay Jones, National Center for Learning Disabilities
Liz King (with Gisela Ariza), The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund
Aimee Rogstad Guidera (with Paige Kowalski), Data Quality Campaign
Phillip Lovell, Alliance for Excellent Education 
Erika McConduit, President and CEO, Urban League of Louisiana
Charmaine Mercer, Learning Policy Institute
Doug Mesecar, Lexington Institute
Kerry Moll, Stand for Children
Rashidah Morgan, Education First
Gavin Payne, GPC Advisors, LLC
Ryan Reyna, Education Strategy Group
Gerard Robinson, American Enterprise Institute
Scott Sargrad, Center for American Progress
Martha Thurlow, National Center on Educational Outcomes
Gini Pupo-Walker, Conexión Américas 
Joanne Weiss, Weiss Associates LLC
Anne Wicks, George W. Bush Institute
Conor P. Williams, New America Foundation
Christy Wolfe, Senior Policy Advisor, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools


What are we looking for? 
Here is the rubric our experts will be using. 

THE GOOD: Although we’re hoping to identify a range of innovative approaches, this review is designed to favor strong state plans that are rooted in college- and career-ready standards for all students. Accountability systems can help improve short- and long-term student outcomes, but only if they contain ambitious but achievable goals, as well as guardrails to help focus schools’ attention on the students who need the most help. 

THE BAD: On the other hand, poorly designed systems can be “gamed” in unproductive ways. Instead of focusing on higher-order skills and annual progress, some accountability systems have encouraged schools to focus on basic skills and to push all students through to a diploma, regardless of what they learn along the way. 

States should use the passage of ESSA as an opportunity to push for the state education improvements that matter most. That call to action is important for all students, but especially for disadvantaged students, who rely on public schools the most and who have historically been underserved by them. Shortly after states submit their plans, we’ll compile our expert reviews and release them to the public. Ultimately, our aim is to provide actionable feedback on the quality of state plans to parents, educators, state policymakers, and advocates interested in improving their community’s schools.