Protecting ESSA from the State Board

It’s a good thing MSEA was the watchdog on MSDE’s ESSA plan u2014 they tried to roll back big gains on less testing, more learning.

Winning good policy outcomes isn’t just about passing laws; we need to make sure they are implemented faithfully, too.

This summer, MSEA worked with leaders in the General Assembly, the attorney general’s office, school boards, civil rights organizations, and other pro-public education advocates to push back against the State Board of Education’s ESSA draft plan.

The State Board’s ESSA plan violated state and federal law, and could have erased one of MSEA’s biggest victories from the Protect Our Schools Act: de-emphasizing test scores in school ratings. They proposed that schools identi- fied for additional resources and support — or what they’d call “failing schools” — should be chosen solely on the basis of statewide test scores. Sound familiar? It’s the same flawed thinking that drove No Child Left Behind.

MSEA’s Protect Our Schools and Less Testing, More Learning campaigns helped pass legislation that protects neighborhood schools from unfair labels based on test scores. MSEA’s continued monitoring of the State Board’s ESSA plan made sure protections remained in place in Maryland’s final ESSA draft plan.

But the law passed by the General Assembly this year required the State Board to include other factors, not just tests — attendance and graduation rates, school climate surveys, and access to advanced coursework and a well-rounded education — when determining whether schools are succeeding.

The pushback was strong and in response, the State Board backed down and dropped their proposal to violate the law. Thanks to the Protect Our Schools Act, Maryland will have a school rating system based less on test scores than any other state in the country.

We knew that when educators helped pass the Protect Our Schools Act in April — overcoming Gov. Hogan’s veto with the help of pro-public education advocates and friends in the legislature — we’d have to keep a very close eye on the governor’s allies on the State Board of Education. It’s a good thing we did.