Equity & Access

Just Half of State ESSA Plans Are Sufficient in Terms of Equity Standards

The historic civil rights organization, the National Urban League, has weighed in on state ESSA plans for "equity indicators," finding that a slight majority (54 percent) could be considered "sufficient." Nine states among the 36 evaluated did an "excellent" job; eight were rated as "poor."

The assessment was done off as part of the League's Equity & Excellence Project (EEP), launched in 2010 to support state and local education reform for children and communities of color. The League reviewed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Consolidated State Plans for 36 states and the District of Columbia — those where the organization has Urban League affiliates. Under ESSA, the U.S. Department of Education mandated that each state develop and submit for approval a plan for how it intended to implement ESSA.

Where states overall landed on each indicator

Where states overall landed on each indicator (green represents an "excellent" ranking; yellow is "sufficient" and red is "poor"). Source: "Standards of Equity & Excellence" from the National Urban League.

The evaluation of the plans focused on 12 equity indicators, including early childhood learning, implementation of college and career-ready standards and supports for struggling schools. The indicators were chosen, according to the League, based on evidence that has demonstrated "their effectiveness for advancing equity and excellence for vulnerable students in our nation's public schools."

Each state's ranking was calculated based on its weighted average performances across each of the indicators. And extra weight was given to three areas the League considered "especially critical to advancing equity":

  • Subgroup performance:ESSA gives states autonomy in how they incorporate subgroups in their accountability systems;
  • Supports and interventions for struggling schools; and
  • Resource equity, referring to "the level of funds, effort and emphasis states intend to deploy to identify, report, and address inequities that exist across their schools and districts."

Based on the final scores, a state was rated as "excellent," "sufficient" or "poor."

Nine states received the top ranking: Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma and Rhode Island. This mean they've had a "strong start leveraging equity opportunities, with some areas for improvement and one or no areas needing urgent attention."

Eight states — Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Virginia — ranked as poor, meaning they've "missed opportunities to further advance equity in a majority of areas with up to four areas needing urgent attention."

The other 20 states in the assessment have "met minimum standards with room to further leverage equity opportunities, and a few areas needing urgent attention," earning them a "sufficient" ranking.

Among the entire group of states assessed, they came closest to excellent in the area of equitable implementation of college and career standards; 29 states rated as excellent and eight rated as satisfactory in that category. The with the greatest level of improvement needed was providing supports and interventions for struggling schools, where 14 states received the poor rating.

According to the assessment, reported in "Standards of Equity & Excellence," several ESSA plans "purposefully minimized the number of schools that would be identified for support and improvement. Some states collapsed the law's tiers, and others declined to identify schools in all tiers. Other states minimized the importance or scrutiny placed on subgroup performance. Still others delegated responsibility for identifying and responding to inequities and challenges exclusively to districts, offering few or no supports beyond monitoring for adherence to the law." The result of these "tactics," a report on the findings noted, is a violation of the "spirit of the law, which placed the responsibility with states to support schools serving needy children to improve the quality of education for all groups of students."

What's next? The League encouraged Congress to hold hearings "on areas of concern," pushed state leaders to "learn from one another" and promoted the idea of advocates and state leaders using the law "and public reporting requirements to analyze expenditures" to ensure that budgets "prioritize students with the greatest need."

An executive summary and the full 177-page report are openly available on a website dedicated to the project.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.