PRIMAS: Georgia Develops ESSA Plan to Close Achievement Gap

Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education
Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education

Georgia is making every effort to ensure that students have a better chance of performing at proficient or advanced levels on all state exams.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) prioritizes narrowing the achievement gap. As states move to implement ESSA, according to federal guidelines, this priority serves as a guiding force. Georgia proposes a target of decreasing the achievement gap by three percent, annually, which is a small number, when compared to the aggressive goals of ESSA’s predecessor, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which required the achievement gap be closed by the 2013-14 school year.

Educators believe that Georgia’s adjusted target is more attainable. NCLB primarily focused on accountability; this translated into more and more assessments and little attention was paid to the actual instructions and interventions that would guarantee that students receive the quality education needed to advance academically. Schools quickly realized that the targets and goals of NCLB were unrealistic and unachievable.

Under the recently submitted ESSA proposal, Georgia has indicated that they believe substantial progress can be made in closing the achievement gap in 15 years. Georgia will reevaluate and adjust strategies for improvement every five years using the state’s proposed three percent annual decrease of the achievement gap as a benchmark. This will ensure steady progress towards the goal of 100 percent of students attaining scores at/or above grade level by 2032.

The Every Student Succeeds Act requires each state to provide a detailed plan as to how aggressive goals to close the achievement gap will be met. Georgia has decided to use assessment scores from the 2017-2018 school year to determine the baseline for each student subgroup. That means that they will identify the starting point for each subgroup based on data they collect this school year. Georgia will then determine how much each subgroup should move in a brief period (1-5 years), and how much they should move over the long period (1-15 years), thus establishing short- and long-term goals. Georgia will then look at each student subgroup (diverse populations) to determine where each group is scoring on the English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies tests. After an analysis of the data, Georgia will set incremental goals for each subgroup that align with state-wide short-term and long-term goals.

Throughout the planning process, Georgia has engaged parents, community members, colleges and universities, teachers and administrators, as well as governmental agencies to help set realistic expectations for Georgia’s students.

Several key components emerged from the stakeholder meetings, including:

1. End-of-course exams should be aligned to the actual instructions the students received.

2. Once students complete core requirements (English, math and science classes) they are eligible to take advanced courses. The advanced courses are offered through various avenues — online, before and after school, and during the school day.

3. Georgia will offer dual-language immersion in eight Local Educational Agencies (LEAs), with Spanish and English as the dual languages

4. Students will have the opportunity to earn advanced credit through accelerated enrollment programs, which may be offered through AP/IB and/or dual enrollment. Georgia pays the tuition for all dual-enrollment high school students, making this program accessible for disadvantaged and low-income students.

5. A common thread across statewide feedback sessions emerged: “parents want to ensure that students are exposed to a well-rounded curriculum.”

It appears Georgia is determined to engage the community in a meaningful way and bring community partners into the school improvement process.

Get involved with education in your community and learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act at www.nnpa.org/essa.

Primas, a longtime educator, is the program manager for the NNPA’s Every Student Succeeds Act public awareness campaign. Follow her on Twitter @ElizabethPrima3.

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