States Push for 2021 Assessment Waivers

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States Push for 2021 Assessment Waivers

Are you looking to understand the arguments for and against a 2021 federal testing/assessment waiver, or learn which factors state and local policymakers believe will influence the Biden-Harris administration's stance on this issue? Then check out Education Week's Andrew Ujifusa latest article on the topic, States Push to Ditch or Downplay Standardized Tests During Virus Surge.
 
Specifically, this article offers a concise overview of what advocates say are the considerations, costs, and benefits of granting another COVID-19 federal nationwide assessment waiver. Moreover, the post highlights where state educational leaders from GA, SC, TX, and VA fall on the priority for, and feasibility of, conducting federally mandated standardized testing in the upcoming spring semester. You can read the article by clicking here

GAO Report: Challenges Providing Services to K-12 English Learners and Students with Disabilities during COVID-19

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GAO Report: Challenges Providing Services to K-12 English Learners and Students with Disabilities during COVID-19

This month, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released their report, Distance Learning: Challenges Providing Services to K-12 English Learners and Students with Disabilities during COVID-19.  Specifically, this report overviews a review of relevant online learning plans, synchronous and asynchronous teaching policies (i.e., live and non-live teaching sessions), individualized education plans (IEP), and semi-structured interviews with administrators from 15 geographically diverse school districts with high proportions of English language learners (ELL) and Students with Disabilities (SWD) populations to highlight the logistical and instructional challenges of providing federally mandated services to these students in the context of the current pandemic. 
 
While these findings are not generalizable to all districts, GAO's report does provide evidence of the challenges LEAs faced in delivering services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) free appropriate public education (FAPE) provision. Additionally, the report's findings around the impacts of student lack of access to internet connectivity and its implications on ELL's academic progress also provides evidence for the need for more funding to the E-rate program. Key highlights from the report are listed below. However, if you would like to skip ahead, click here to access the full report.  

 

  • GAO found that students had fewer opportunities to practice their language skills during distance learning, as they would during a typical school day. 
  • GAO found that limited English comprehension also affected the ability of families to assist students with the distance learning curriculum.
  • GAO found that LEA's attempted to address issues with ELL instruction by increasing internet connectivity and access to devices, using creative communication Strategies (e.g., smartphone communication and teacher home visits), and adapting materials and instructional methods.
  • GAO found that school districts faced many challenges in providing distance learning to SWDs due to the range of student needs and services and parental capacity to assist.
  • GAO found that districts addressed challenges of distance learning for SWDs by modifying instruction, holding IEP meetings virtually, and encouraging parent-teacher collaboration. 
 
 
 

Guest Blog Post: Introducing District-level Dashboards to the National COVID-19 School Response Dashboard

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Guest Blog Post: Introducing District-level Dashboards to the National COVID-19 School Response Dashboard

This blog post originally appeared on the Qualtrics Blog and is reposted with permission. 

This week, AASA and Qualtrics are introducing our district dashboards in preview, the latest iteration of the National COVID-19 School Response Dashboard. Earlier this fall, we partnered with Brown University Professor Emily Oster and various school superintendents and principals associations to unveil the dashboard – the first nationwide effort that systematically maps schools’ responses to the pandemic across the U.S.

The district dashboards are privately accessed, available only to the participating school district. Each district dashboard displays information similar to the types of data available on the public national dashboard, such as percentage of confirmed cases, daily case rate, and mitigation strategies. Additionally, each district’s (or school’s*) specific information is benchmarked against other districts or schools in their geographic region (at the state level), and districts or schools with characteristics similar to their district, such as student demographics or community size.

For example, a district will be able to compare their daily case rate to the community case rate in their county, and districts with similar demographics in other parts of the U.S. For example, a district that reports a student infection rate of 14 per 100,000 can see their student infection rate compared against community infection rates in their county. Additionally, districts will be able to compare the infection rates with the community rates for groups of districts with similar characteristics in other parts of the U.S. For example, a district in a rural locale can view infection rates for all other rural districts as compared to rural community rates.

 

District dashboards will enable district administrators to better understand the state of their community’s health and outcomes relative to their broader geographic community and districts with similar characteristics. Any community case data reported on the dashboard is based on publicly available data as reported by public health resources.

District dashboards are free to any participating district in the national dashboard. If you’d like to learn more about the National COVID-19 School Response Dashboard, participate in this initiative, or get in touch with a team member, visit covidschooldashboard.com.

Who will have access to view the district dashboards?

  • The primary point of contact reporting to the national dashboard will have access only to their district’s dashboard.

 How many districts participating in the national dashboard will have access to their own district’s dashboard?

  • Our goal is to provide all participating districts in the national dashboard have access to their own district dashboard. We have just introduced the preview of the district dashboard and will begin rolling them out to individual districts.

Can my district modify or customize data that we see on our district dashboard?

  • No, the district dashboards provide information based on self-reported data by the district and/or school, and publicly available data.

Will every district dashboard have school-specific information within their district?

  • School-level data will only be available if it was self-reported in the enrollment or biweekly surveys.
  • School-specific data is available only to districts who have reported this information.

 

18 National Organizations Call on Congress to Invest in Schools During Lame Duck

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18 National Organizations Call on Congress to Invest in Schools During Lame Duck

Today, 18 national organizations released a joint statement calling on Congress to invest in schools during the lame duck period. Read the statement here.

Supporting Groups

 

  • AASA, The School Superintendents Association
  • American Federation of School Administrators
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • Association of Educational Service Agencies
  • Association of School Business Officials International
  • Council of Administrators of Special Education
  • Council of Chief State School Officers
  • Council of Great City Schools
  • National Association of Elementary School Principals
  • National Association of School Psychologists
  • National Association of Secondary School Principals
  • National Association of State Boards of Education
  • National Assoc. of State Directors of Special Education
  • National Education Association
  • National PTA
  • National Rural Education Advocacy Consortium
  • National Rural Education Association
  • National School Boards Association

 

Biden Administration: What Can They Accomplish via EO?

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Biden Administration: What Can They Accomplish via EO?

As the odds of Democrats winning a majority of the Senate look highly unlikely, much of the conversation in D.C. has shifted to what the Biden Administration can accomplish via Executive Orders or through their administrative powers. Over the summer, the Biden campaign published the results of a Democrat unity taskforce they led with Senator Bernie Sanders which contains policy proposals, both legislative and executive, that would unite the party. While the majority of them do require Congressional approval, there are some policies that the American Prospect has identified that the Biden Administration could execute via Executive Order that directly impact public school students and policies. Here is a brief list of actions Biden could take unilaterally to change or influence district policies and practices:

Fully implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, which gives states the option to choose school climate as an indicator of school quality; all states must describe how they will plan to support districts in reducing the use of policies and practices that push students out of school.

Encourage states to adopt and develop a multiple measures approach to assessment, like the New York Performance Standards Consortium and the International Baccalaureate so students can showcase what they know in a variety of ways.

Provide support to districts to best meet the needs of their students during the crisis and beyond. This includes crafting recovery plans with an equity lens and determining how to responsibly use remote learning as an emergency tool when necessary and returning to face to face classrooms when conditions allow. Digitize all necessary educational materials and ensure access to hardware, software, and particularly broadband for all students and educators.

Ban for-profit private charter businesses from receiving federal funding.

Appoint a federal task force to study charter schools' impact on public education and make recommendations

Initiate a series of reforms regarding parent and community participation in charter governance, accountability and transparency

Support the six recommendations from the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development report, "From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope," as well as the action agenda.

Require the Secretaries of Education and HHS to develop federal standards for ensuring that all federally funded childcare settings include children with disabilities and do not discriminate on the basis of disability.

Address the shortage in special education teachers within our system with an eye towards teacher recruitment, training opportunities, and workload for special education teachers

Aggressively enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to address both programmatic and architectural barriers

Work with higher education institutions to support a career path for early childhood educators to attain early childhood certificates (CDAs), associate and bachelor's degrees, and ongoing job-embedded training and professional development and create a career path for lead teachers in preschool classrooms to have a bachelor’s degree in child development and/or early childhood education and assistant teachers to have an associate’s degree in child development.

Improve federal data collection on racial segregation in schools as part of a broader project of reinvigorating Ed's Office of Civil Rights.

Maintain the U.S. Department of Education’s current level of Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) by preserving the existing questions and disaggregation of data by student subgroups, requiring all schools and districts to collect and report the data annually and continuing to make the CRDC accessible to the public.

The Biden Administration: Civil Rights Guidance and Enforcement

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The Biden Administration: Civil Rights Guidance and Enforcement

As a lobbyist for AASA for most of the Obama Administration, I can state that one of the most frustrating aspects of working with the Obama/Duncan Administration was their penchant for issuing prescriptive guidance on a variety of issues impacting schools and students. If you peruse the Leading Edge blog from that era, you will see a re-statement of the following advice on federal guidance repeatedly mentioned in our posts: guidance is not law.

The Trump Administration also used guidance to try and dictate rather than clarify their policy views on various K-12 issues. Initially, they also expended effort to quickly undo much of the K-12 guidance that the Obama Administration issued that was particularly controversial or viewed negatively by Republicans.

It should be no surprise then that President-Elect Biden has already announced his intention to re-instate various Obama-era guidance documents. He will take the opportunity, as his predecessors have, to use guidance to try and pressure districts to move quickly in adopting practices and policies that they are not required to abide by under Congressional statute, but that they should for the sake of civil rights enforcement.

Specifically, Biden has already stated that he plans to:

Reinstate Title IX protections for transgender students that were eliminated by Trump administration

  • Reinstate the use of disparate impact theory in determining racial discrimination in school discipline,
  • Reinstate guidance on responding to sexual assault and harassment at schools
  • Reinstate guidance on voluntary school integration efforts

AASA does not have a position on the reinstitution of these guidance documents; we know some members welcome their return, while others find them to be totally unnecessary or unhelpful in light of their local policies or state laws, which may be far more comprehensive and prescriptive on these issues then the federal guidance documents. For example, in 2018 we did a deep dive into the impact of the 2014 Obama-era discipline guidance and found that the 2014 guidance had a very limited impact on changing district discipline policies and practices. Of the close to one-thousand members we surveyed only 16% said they modified their discipline policies because of the 2014 guidance.

What we also learned from that specific report and subsequent conversations with our members is that civil rights enforcement practices by the U.S. Department of Education was a much larger, more powerful lever in changing district policy and practice. The Biden Administration has also vowed to dramatically beef up OCR enforcement and we anticipate that there will be a return to the aggressive enforcement standards and processes that were in place during the Obama Administration. The enforcement practices will likely play a much larger role in pressuring districts to adopt guidance they would otherwise ignore than the guidance documents themselves.

The Biden Administration: Undoing the Title IX Regulations

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The Biden Administration: Undoing the Title IX Regulations

While the Biden Administration has said the Title IX regulations will quickly end when he’s elected—it’s not that simple. While they can tell schools that there will be no penalty from OCR or a potential loss of federal funds if they fail to comply with the 2020 Title IX regs, it’s not as though that would protect schools against lawsuits. If, for example, a student feels that their due process rights has been violated by a district’s decision to not follow the current Title IX regulations then it is likely that the respondent would be successful in Court since the law is still on the books.

Congress is not likely going to be of much help to the Administration particularly a Republican Senate. While there is still significant momentum to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, where these regulations are based, and Congress has a role in shaping the underlying law that the regulations are based on, it will take considerable renewed time and debate on Capitol Hill to jump start new legislation and get bipartisan agreement on this contentious issue.

 Regardless of what Biden does, there are still two pending lawsuits challenging the Title IX rule that could strike it down. Also unclear is what the Biden Administration’s response to the litigation would be and how that would impact the litigation.

So, in the meantime legal experts advise districts that the safest legal course will be to continue to follow the regulations until we have a definitive pause in the regulations and a course for what districts should follow instead. 

The Advocate: November 2020

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The Advocate: November 2020

November 2020 may be a month that will be defined by its election, but we run The Advocate early in the month, and this means we are writing this in late October when we don’t know who the next president will be. What we do know is that our nation’s schools continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, balancing the very important push and priority to open schools at the exact same time the nation’s COVID-19 rates are peaking and we rapidly approach flu season. So what’s a district leader to do when they find themselves in the middle of a pandemic, lacking meaningful and reliable federal data on rates?
 
That’s where the National COVID-19 School Response dashboard comes in. This is a collaboration between AASA, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and National Association of Elementary School Principals. Together we are working with Professor Emily Oster (Brown University) and Qualtrics, an experience management company (Researchers often use Qualtrics as a survey tool and combine it with SPSS to analyze survey data). The collaboration is the first nationwide database that systematically maps schools’ responses to the pandemic across the United States. Data is visualized in a single dashboard that empowers school leaders, policymakers and the general public to examine current conditions in their own communities—as well as compare against other areas—to adapt to changing environments and make data-driven teaching and learning decisions as they continue to navigate the 2020-21 school year.
 
AASA supports this work because our members, the nation’s public school superintendents—and the schools and students they serve—started the 2020-21 school year with inadequate access to broad, nationwide data reporting the realities of COVID in schools. We are proud to be a partner in this effort, to respond to a critical need, and to be able to share a robust set of locally reported data that will help district leaders and school principals answer questions critical to ensuring their staff and students are safe in school. The initial dashboard, launched in September, was just the first step in what will be an enduring effort to make this data as robust and meaningful as possible.
 
Top level takeaways of the database to date are:
  • It is likely safer for schools to be more open than they currently are, though there are two very big and important caveats: where opening is happening well, it takes a lot of mitigation strategies, and those mitigation strategies cost money.
  • School COVID rates appear to reflect/track those of their broader community (not surprising) but at an overall lower level. That is, if you are in a community that is experiencing an increase in COVID rates, your school rate is also likely increasing, though is at an overall lower level. 
Looking forward, there are big updates as of the last week in October: The dashboard now includes data from New York, collected by the state, on all their public schools. The inclusion of the New York data both increases the sample a lot, and address some of the concerns raised on selection bias (Not ALL of the concerns, the data is still not perfect!). And the research team tweaked some of the dashboard filter functions to better allow you to look at age groups, learning models and state community rates (grouped). Scroll to bottom to get the New York raw data, and some summary of what you'd get from filters.
 
Next steps are just as exciting, as well! We are working with other states to do what we did with New York (if you can help us with this, we’d welcome it!). We are in discussions to enroll more parochial and private schools, including outreach to Notre Dame, who is monitoring COVID-19 in private schools. And, the research team will be expanding its analysis on race and income.
 
Specific to districts, though, AASA is very pleased to announce: as part of the November 17 webinar How Schools Can Reopen Using Data Driven Decisions (Feat. Emily Oster, Noelle Ellerson Ng, and Byron Adams), we will be previewing the dashboards with relevant benchmarks that participating districts and schools will receive (this is a much more granular level than is currently available to individual enrollees).
 
We remain committed to this dashboard and our work to ensuring the nation’s public school leaders have access to robust, real-time and locally-reported data detailing COVID-19 in schools, information critical to ongoing efforts to open schools safely. You can direct any questions to AASA’s Noelle Ellerson Ng (nellerson@aasa.org)
 
Related Information: