Supporting States and Districts in Implementing ESSA

  • May 25, 2016
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Last December, President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act which was last reauthorized in 2001 as No Child Left Behind. ESSA recognizes the need for schools to support the whole child and specifically acknowledges the importance of promoting physical and mental health and wellness.

Here at Healthy Schools Campaign, we’re working with our partners to ensure the vision set forth by ESSA is implemented and that the opportunities for supporting student health and wellness become realities. One of the key ways in which we are doing this is responding to requests from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) for advice and recommendations on key components of ESSA.

Most recently, we partnered with Trust for America’s Health to provide our recommendations on which components could use further guidance from ED. Our recommendations encourage ED to provide guidance on specific areas of ESSA that we think will best enable states, districts and others to ensure ESSA is implemented and will support healthy schools and student health and wellness and promote educational equity for students across the country.

Specifically, we recommended that ED issue guidance that does the following:

1. Outlines a process for identification of evidence-based interventions that support healthy schools and student health and provides access to technical assistance resources to help schools, districts and States assess their student needs and identify evidence-based interventions to meet those needs.

ED can play a key role in documenting evidence-based interventions that support the conditions of learning in schools, including practices that support healthy schools and student health and wellness. Under Title I, districts must develop and implement a school improvement plan that includes evidence-based interventions. In addition, programming implemented using Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants must be evidence-based. Educating States and districts about what an evidence-based intervention is and ensuring they have easy access to model interventions and criteria that can be used to select such interventions will be key to ensuring the success of ESSA.

We also recommended that guidance from ED address how districts and schools can conduct comprehensive needs assessments to better understand the needs impacting students’ ability to learn. Under ESSA, both Title I school improvement plans and schoolwide programs must be informed by a comprehensive needs assessment. In addition, school districts receiving more than $30,000 in Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants must conduct a needs assessment and use grant funding to address the needs identified. Districts and schools will need significant support and guidance to conduct effective needs assessments.

Finally, we encouraged ED to emphasize the importance of working with other sectors to conduct needs assessments. For example, non-profit hospitals are required to conduct Community Health Needs Assessments once every three years in order to inform their community benefit programming. Districts and schools can work with local non-profit hospitals to leverage their expertise around needs assessments.

2. Establishes criteria for selecting strong measures of school quality and success for inclusion in state accountability systems, including measures that can address health.

Under ESSA, states are required to include at least one non-academic measure (described as a measure of school quality and success) in their state accountability systems. Including non-academic measures in education accountability systems is a key opportunity to emphasize the connection between health and learning and elevate the importance of efforts to create healthy school environments. As states develop their accountability systems, there will be a need to make sure stakeholders understand how to select strong non-academic indicators. We suggest that criteria for selecting these indicators should include measures that are not tested, are evidence-based, are actionable, have best practices for addressing and are meaningful to key stakeholders, including educators, parents, specialized instructional support personnel and community members. Examples of indicators that meet these criteria include rates of chronic absenteeism and measures of school climate.

3. Provides states, districts and communities with the knowledge and support to define and measure chronic absenteeism and effectively use chronic absenteeism data in early warning and intervention systems.

States receiving Title I funding are now required to include chronic absenteeism on their state report cards. As a result, it is important to provide states and districts with guidance on how to effectively measure chronic absenteeism and use chronic absenteeism data in a meaningful and impactful way. We also recommend that ED strongly encourage states and districts to define chronic absenteeism as missing 10 percent or more of school for any reason. This definition aligns with ED’s Every Student, Every Day initiative and will enable States and districts to fully leverage the power of chronic absenteeism as an early warning indicator.

4. Encourages states, districts and communities to braid various funding streams together to support programs that promote student and school health.

Cross-sector efforts such as those that promote health in schools often rely upon multiple funding streams for long-term sustainability. Guidance should encourage schools, districts and states to seek out and braid together various funding streams, including those in ESSA. We also recommend that guidance outlines how schools, districts and states can work with the federal government to identify, apply for and braid together multiple funding streams to sustain cross-sector programs.

Cross-sector efforts such as those that promote health in schools often rely upon multiple funding streams for long-term sustainability. Guidance should encourage schools, districts and states to seek out and braid together various funding streams, including those in ESSA. We also recommend that guidance outlines how schools, districts and states can work with the federal government to identify, apply for and braid together multiple funding streams to sustain cross-sector programs.

5. Supports states and school districts in engaging a wide range of stakeholders in the implementation of ESSA.

ED can play an important role in issuing guidance that builds the capacity of States, districts and schools to meaningfully engage a wide range of stakeholders, including partners from other sectors, parents and communities in efforts to implement ESSA. Specifically, the development of Title I state plans and schoolwide Title I programs provide important opportunities for engaging a wide range of stakeholders to ensure these programs are meeting students’ needs and leveraging the resources within communities. Guidance should define what meaningful stakeholder engagement is and highlight models from across the country of where this has occurred to inform school planning and decision-making.

You can download our full comments to learn more about the ways we hope ED will support States and districts in implementing ESSA in  a way that supports healthy schools and student health and wellness. We look forward to continuing to work with partners and advocates to advance this work and support a strong implementation of ESSA.