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Fixing PERA through ESSA

For more than a decade, Illinois teachers, students, and school districts have suffered from the consequences of reforms like No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the Performance Evaluation Reform Act (PERA).

NCLB promised to improve learning, but instead resulted in over-testing, drastically reduced instructional time, and assessments used to rank, sort and punish schools. PERA promised to improve educational services by significantly changing teacher and principal evaluation.

Signed by President Obama in 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is our opportunity to change direction. ESSA opens the door to states to provide for flexibility, shared accountability, and more equitable funding, and takes the federal government out of the teacher evaluation process.

To fully realize the flexibility of ESSA, many Illinois laws will need to be changed – most notably PERA. While our union has provided feedback to ISBE on its draft plans to implement ESSA, we have also been educating lawmakers about the harm PERA has done. (See this issue of Union Link.)

IFT members have provided the most important voice through this process. By participating in IFT-sponsored PERA focus groups and weighing in on ESSA during public comment periods, you’ve spoken out to ISBE and Governor Rauner about what must be done to support our schools and once again focus on teaching and learning, not testing and paperwork.

This spring, the IFT will continue to advocate for you as the state ESSA plan is finalized. We will also seek changes to PERA to decrease the stress teachers feel throughout the evaluation process while preserving systems that provide for meaningful evaluator feedback.

These important components of ESSA must be addressed in the state's implementation plan. Please review this helpful background information and the guiding questions below to help you develop comments to share with ISBE.


SCHOOL ACCOUNTABILITY SYSTEM

Background:
ESSA requires each state to develop a school accountability system based on a combination of:
 
  1. Proficiency in reading and math;
  2. Graduation rates for high schools;
  3. English language proficiency (new requirement under ESSA);
  4. For elementary and middle schools, student growth or another indicator that is valid, reliable, and applicable statewide;
  5. At least one other indicator of school quality or success, such as measures of safety, student engagement, or educator engagement.

ESSA maintains a focus on student subgroup populations, including the addition of students’ English language proficiency into the accountability system. ESSA gives states two options for delaying English learners’ inclusion in accountability systems while they are learning English:

  • For one year, exclude the student from taking the reading/English language arts test and from counting results of either or both the math and English language arts tests; OR
  • For the first year of the student’s enrollment in a U.S. school, report on but exclude from accountability system the results on these tests; for the second year of enrollment, include a measure of student growth on both tests; and for the third year of enrollment, include proficiency on both tests in the accountability system.

Guiding Questions:
Answer these questions to help you develop comments to ISBE.

  1. ­How should each school’s successes and areas for improvement be measured?
  2. Describe your personal experiences regarding the impact that statewide mandated reading and math tests have had on your students, classroom, class time, and school/district resources?
  3. Describe your personal experiences regarding the impact that statewide mandated reading, math, and English proficiency tests have had on your English language learning students, classroom, class time, and school/district resources?
  4. In your experience, have there been unintended consequences of the NCLB focus on student subgroup populations? If so, what are they?   

Sample Messages
  1. Illinois should ensure its new accountability system is balanced, fair and based on multiple measures of school success that go beyond narrow test scores from the statewide assessment.
  2. Illinois should take advantage of ESSA flexibility on the inclusion of English language learners in its accountability system.​



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TEACHER EVALUATION

Background:
ESSA takes the federal government out of teacher evaluation policy. The Illinois Performance Evaluation Reform Act (PERA) prescribes teacher evaluation requirements for all districts in the state.

Guiding Questions:
Answer these questions to help you develop comments to ISBE.

  1. ­What are the difficulties and challenges you have faced when implementing student growth measures in teacher evaluation as defined by current PERA law?
    ­
  2. What recommendations do you have for the state on teacher evaluation in Illinois?

Sample Message:

Using student growth in teacher evaluation should be a local decision between the union and the district.



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SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT

Background:
Using the new state-developed accountability system that includes the five indicators, states have to identify underperforming schools once every three years.  

Targeted support and improvement -  Schools with significantly underperforming subgroups (as defined by the state) must develop plans with stakeholders. Plans must include evidence-based strategies.

Comprehensive support and improvement - States have to ensure that districts provide comprehensive support and improvement to: (1) the five percent lowest-performing schools; (2) schools with a graduation rate of less than 67 percent; and (3) schools receiving targeted support and improvement for several years, in which at least one subgroup is consistently significantly underperforming. Schools must develop plans with stakeholders that include evidence-based strategies and a resource equity component. The plans must be approved by the district and state, and they must be monitored/reviewed by the state. Students at such schools are eligible for public school choice. After four years of comprehensive support, if schools do not meet state-defined criteria for exit, the state will take more rigorous action. Existing, prescriptive requirements under SIG 1003(g) grants, including the use of a Lead Partner, are gone under ESSA.

Guiding Questions:
Answer these questions to help you develop comments to ISBE.

  1. ­What are your experiences working collaboratively with your district on the development of your local school improvement plan? How did that experience impact the implementation of the plan?
    ­
  2. What are your experiences with school improvement plans that have been imposed upon you? How did that experience impact implementation of the plan?
    ­
  3. For locals impacted by SIG 1003(g) grants, what are your experiences with this competitive grant?
  4. What are your recommendations for the state to ensure that schools are adequately supported for improvement and teachers are involved in the process?

Sample Messages:
  1. School Improvement Plans that are created collaboratively by the local union, parents, and administration will have a more positive impact on student learning.
  2. State support for school improvement work should not be based on competitive grants or requirements that districts hire a vendor to lead school improvement work.



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ASSESSMENT QUALITY AND QUANTITY

Background:
ESSA maintains the requirement that states test students annually in reading/language arts and math in grades 3-8 and once in grades 10-12; in science, testing must occur once in each of the following grade spans: 3-5, 6-9 and 10-12.

The bill does include some flexibility to improve testing policies, including:
  • ­States and school districts can use funds to conduct audits of state and local assessment systems to eliminate unnecessary tests and improve assessments.
    ­
  • Development and dissemination of high-quality performance-based assessments is allowed through a seven-state pilot program.
    ­
  • While assessments for elementary schools must be the same for all public school students statewide, states may offer a nationally recognized local assessment at the high school level (ex: SAT or ACT), as long as it is reliable, valid, and comparable.
  • Allows states to set a target limit on the aggregate amount of time that students spend taking assessments for each grade.

Guiding Questions:
Answer these questions to help you develop comments to ISBE.

  1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of administering state and federal accountability assessments?
    ­
  2. From your perspective, do you think there is a balance of required assessments, as compared to teacher-determined assessments? What is the impact on your students and your ability to provide instructional time?
  3. What type(s) of assessment information do you find most helpful in informing your understanding of student learning in your planning and preparation?

Sample Messages:
  1. Local, classroom-level assessments provide the most relevant information about student learning to teachers and are the best way to inform instructional decisions.
  2. Right now, state assessments take too much time to administer and test-prep for reading and math is eating up class time that could be spent teaching non-tested subject areas.



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PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES

Background:
Title II, Part A, is the main source of funding that is distributed to states and then to districts based on a formula grant. Under ESSA, the state formula grant will now give more weight to the number of children in poverty than to the overall number of children in the state, and it will be implemented gradually over a multiyear period. Resources will be provided to states and school districts to implement activities to support teachers, paraprofessionals, principals and other educators. Title II, Part A, maintains a broad focus on making funds available for professional development, professional growth, and leadership opportunities for paraprofessionals and teachers. Specific language says that a state can use funds for centers on induction, mentoring, career pathways, and recruiting a diverse teacher workforce.
 
Guiding Questions:
Answer these questions to help you develop comments to ISBE.

  1. ­What challenges do teachers face in accessing relevant professional development and professional learning opportunities? 
  2. What recommendations do you have for the state to help districts ensure equity of access to relevant professional development opportunities?
  3. What are your experiences with your district’s induction and mentoring program? How has it been impacted in recent years?

Sample Messages:
  1. Students benefit when their teachers have equitable access and input into relevant, job-embedded professional development and learning opportunities.
  2. ESSA funds should be used for the state and districts to support induction and mentoring programs, career pathways, and the recruitment of a diverse teacher workforce.



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FUNDING

Background:
ESSA increases funding to key formula grant programs. It reflects the current budget agreement in 2017 and increases authorization levels for ESSA overall by 2 percent each year in 2018-2020. There are no changes to the current Title I formula. There are some changes to the Title II formula that will provide resources to rural areas. ESSA also keeps the maintenance-of-effort provision that requires states to keep up their own spending at a particular level. It increases authorizations for Title III, support for English language learners.

Guiding Question:
Answer these questions to help you develop comments to ISBE.

A principle of ESSA is to maintain a focus on equity - ensuring that funding goes to concentrations of students who need it the most. Given this principle, what do you see as priorities in Illinois for education funding, student learning, and planning and preparation?

Sample Message:
The state must ensure equitable educational funding for all students.




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SUPPORT FOR STUDENT SERVICES

Background:
ESSA maintains funding targeted toward supporting specific groups of students including early childhood students, homeless students, students with disabilities, students living in poverty, and students enrolled in career and technical education.
 
Guiding Questions:
Answer these questions to help you develop comments to ISBE.

  1. What do you think is important for the state to know when it develops its plan for support for student services?
  2. What role do you see the community and community-based organizations playing in working with teachers and schools to help children achieve academic success?
  3. From your experience, what are the barriers you and your students face in accessing needed services and supports? What ideas do you have for addressing these challenges?

Sample Message:
Illinois must ensure that all students have access to the services and supports necessary to be successful.



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PARAPROFESSIONALS

Background:
ESSA maintains paraprofessional licensure requirements, expands professional development opportunities for paraprofessionals, and ensures that paraprofessionals are included in the development of state and local plans.  ESSA also allows states to establish, expand, and improve pathways for paraprofessionals seeking teacher licensure.

Guiding Questions:
Answer these questions to help you develop comments to ISBE.

  1. In your experience, what challenges have you faced in accessing relevant professional development?
  2. In your experience, what challenges have you faced in seeking teacher licensure?
  3. What recommendations do you have for expanding professional development opportunities for paraprofessionals in the state of Illinois?
  4. What are your recommendations for expanding and improving pathways for paraprofessionals seeking teacher licensure?

Sample Messages:
  1. Students benefit when paraprofessionals have equitable access and input into relevant, job-embedded professional development and learning opportunities.
  2. The state should expand the Grow Your Own program for paraprofessionals seeking a teaching license.


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TEACHER PREPARATION PROGRAMS

Background:
While the majority of teacher preparation language remains in the federal Higher Education Act, Title II of the Every Student Succeeds Act addresses allowable funding uses and competitive grants to develop, improve, and expand preparation for teachers, principals, and school leaders.  

ESSA authorizes states to consider changing teacher preparation program standards and approval processes; establishes, expands, or improves alternate routes to licensure; the establishment of school-based teacher residency programs; and the creation of new teacher, principal, or other school leader preparation academies.
 
Guiding Questions:
Answer these questions to help you develop comments to ISBE.

  1. From your perspective, what are the critical components of effective teacher preparation programs?
  2. If you have supervised student teachers, what changes in teacher preparation programs have enhanced or inhibited your ability to provide support and instruction as a cooperating teacher and help the pre-service teacher develop his/her craft?
  3. What are your experiences with novice teachers who were prepared through alternative licensure routes, as compared to a traditional university teacher preparation program?
  4. What challenges do teacher preparation programs face with ensuring that teacher candidates are adequately prepared?
  5. What recommendations do you have for the state regarding teacher preparation programming?

Sample Message:
Illinois must maintain a commitment to comprehensive, rigorous teacher preparation programs that are accessible to students at universities across the state.



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SCHOOL CLIMATE AND CULTURE

Background:
ESSA allows states and districts to use Title II funds to conduct and publicly report on an assessment of educator support and working conditions.

Guiding Questions:
Answer these questions to help you develop comments to ISBE.

  1. In your experience, what has helped to improve your school’s climate and culture?  
  2. What supports and resources would improve school climate and culture for you and your students?

Sample Messages:
  1. Illinois should use ESSA funding to continue to administer a statewide survey of school learning conditions.
  2. A positive school culture and climate increases student achievement and teacher retention.



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