Off and running with ESSA

The Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law in 2015, replaced the No Child Left Behind Act, which was enacted in 2002. Designed to expand educational opportunities and improve student outcomes, the new version of the act reauthorized the 50-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the nation’s national education law and commitment to equal opportunity for all students.

The new law builds on key areas of progress in recent years, made possible by the efforts of educators, communities, parents, and students across the country, according to the Department of Education. In January, the ED approved Indiana’s ESSA plan. The 179-page plan details how state officials will comply with ESSA. As part of the guiding policy, Indiana schools Superintendent Jennifer McCormick pledged to close the student achievement gap in English and mathematics for special education students, students of color and other unique populations by 50% by 2023.

Striving for Higher Achievement Levels

As many states work on their own ESSA plans, and/or request more time to get their plans developed and approved, here in Indiana we’re off and moving. ESSA is going to affect our state’s school districts in numerous ways, including how we administer high-stakes testing; how the state deals with schools that need assistance or attention because they aren’t achieving at a high level; and our historical use of general diplomas (which aren’t allowed under ESSA). Because of the latter, schools where general diplomas comprise as much as 40% of graduates will see a significant impact on their graduate rates (here at BCSC our number of general diplomas is around 2-3%).

Fortunately, our district has been working toward many of ESSA’s guiding principles all along. Thanks to our commitment to Universal Design for Learning, for example, we’ve been providing a framework for educators who want to shape individual learning paths to the interests and talents of students. As a result, the college and career readiness portion of Indiana’s ESSA plan is really consistent with what we’ve been doing for years—as is the section related to making instruction “more readily available” to a wider swath of students.

In Indiana, for example, one of the offshoots of the ESSA was a new law that passed in 2017, and that allows (and recognizes) online instruction. Through it, districts get credit for delivering instruction to students who are located anywhere in the state, and then receive a fraction of that pupil’s typical state support in return. So, the district that provides one unit of instruction to a student that lives 100 miles away from campus would receive that percentage of his or her support (versus the school where the student is actually registered).

Enterprise Learning Management Systems

Here at BCSC, we’re starting to look very closely at that opportunity and utilizing our itslearning learning management system to drive new ways of providing instruction. We’re already using alternative instructional delivery methods, and this is just a natural extension of those efforts. Our credit catch-up (or recovery) opportunity, for example, allows students who are out of school (e.g., for health reasons) to participate in compressed programs that help them meet their important graduation requirements in half the time it would typically take.

Because everything in our district is seen through the lens of UDL—including software and hardware selection; resource adoption; and course/curriculum design—the fact that UDL is seen as an important component in Indiana’s ESSA plan aligns well with our existing instructional approach. In fact, our work will be very “natural” within ESSA, which should also encourage even more varied teaching activities, service projects, project-based learning, and career/technical program usage.

Our enterprise LMS supports all of these efforts. About 90% of our student population touches our LMS on any given day. In our Career and Technical Education programs, for example, we use the LMS to deliver and support project-based educational pathways that help prepare our students for success in college and in the workforce. Even our senior projects are integrated into our use of the LMS.  Teachers use the LMS to view, assess, and grade student materials in a single, centralized location.

Creating Consistencies and Synergies  

To school districts around the nation that are trying to figure out how to manage the new ESSA requirements, the “Keep cool, but don’t freeze” messaging on the top of a mayonnaise container is pretty good advice to follow. As they look at how to deliver instruction in the coming years, districts will need to develop plans that are supported by an enterprise LMS platform that supports everything that they do, and that’s consistent with their instructional framework. 

Our LMS, for example, works hand-in-hand with our one-to-one program and has helped us create a single entity (versus viewing our LMS and one-to-one as two separate initiatives). We've been very deliberate about figuring out how those two things fit together and work as a single entity, and that's been really key to the adoption and to the use that we're getting out of our one-to-one and our LMS. As our state’s ESSA plan starts to take shape at the district level, these existing synergies will allow us take a step back and come up with ways to deal with the changes in ways that truly benefit all of our students.

Mike Jamerson is director of technology at Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation (BCSC) in Columbus, Ind.

Tech Tips is a weekly column in SmartBrief on EdTech. Have a tech tip to share? Contact us at knamahoe@smartbrief.com

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