Tag Archives: Every Student Succeeds Act

ESSA Provides Opportunity for More NBCTs in North Carolina

This post is written by NCTE member Justin Parmenter. 

JustinParmenterSince the inception of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), North Carolina has been a leader in the number of teachers achieving National Board certification. However, the past several years saw an 85 percent drop in the number of certificates awarded in our state. The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) may provide an opportunity for North Carolina to reverse this unfortunate trend.

Time and again, studies have shown evidence of increases in student achievement in classes taught by teachers who have made it through the rigorous National Board certification process when compared with non-certified peers. My personal experience with this process was that it was less about showcasing my existing teaching talent and more about becoming a much more reflective teacher. Working through the process of earning my National Board certificate made me more intentional about how I thought about my students as learners and how I planned and conducted lessons. As a result, my teaching became more engaging and student centered, and I saw positive results in student and parent feedback, grades, test scores, and Education Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS) data.


To encourage teachers to achieve certification, North Carolina began awarding scholarships to pay for the process in the early 1990s. When I applied for a National Board certificate in 2006 as a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teacher, I was responsible for only the $65 registration fee–not the daunting $2,500 cost of certification. Many other teachers in North Carolina took advantage of this opportunity as well, pushing our state to number one in national rankings, where it remains today despite recent decreases.

The recent decline of National Board certification rates in our state came with the economic crash of 2008. To cut costs, the 2009 General Assembly converted the scholarship to a loan, effectively ending significant financial support for teachers pursuing certification. Around the same time, teacher salaries were frozen. As a consequence, the number of teachers earning National Board certificates fell 85 percent over the next three years.  NBPTS has worked to better accommodate teachers by reducing the cost of certification to $1,900 and allowing teachers to work toward certification over three years rather than completing it in one year. (This new process began in school year 2014–2015, so it’s too early to say what the impact will be on long-term certification numbers. The National Board reports there are currently more than 13,000 candidates working through the new three-year process.)

NBCT North Carolina (Parmenter blog)

The Every Student Succeeds Act–which passed last year–offers a glimmer of hope to North Carolina teachers who would like to earn their National Board certificate but simply cannot afford to do so. The law requires schools to “increase the number of teachers . . . who are effective in improving student academic achievement” and provides $2.5 billion in Title II funds to make that happen. Ninety-five percent of these funds are going to school districts, along with unprecedented flexibility in determining how to use those funds. National Board Director of Government Relations Seth Gerson says ESSA will allow states and districts to “invest in building a continuum of teaching excellence including support for teachers pursuing Board certification.”

This fall, local education agencies  across our state are forming committees to collect feedback from all stakeholders on what changes they’d like to see made in North Carolina under ESSA. The timeline requires states to present their completed plans to the Department of Education in February of 2017. Teachers who are interested in speaking their minds on how National Board certification is supported in their districts have a very narrow window in which to do so.

ESSA presents a unique opportunity for teachers’ voices to be heard on the future of professional development. If a portion of Title II funds at the district level were invested in making National Board certification more viable for our teachers, the disturbing trend away from teachers engaging in this valuable process could begin to change.

Justin Parmenter began his teaching career as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Albania, later teaching in Istanbul Turkey and on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in eastern Arizona.  He currently teaches 7th grade Language Arts at Waddell Language Academy in Charlotte, NC and is a North Carolina Teacher Voice Network Fellow with the Hope Street Group.  You can reach him on Twitter at @justinparmenter

Note: To see the timeline in your state, visit ESSA Implementation in the States.

You, Too, Can Have a Voice in Your State’s Plan

capitol buildingOn December 10, 2015, President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (S.1177), passed by both houses of Congress to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Congress’s intent was to give more authority to states, districts, and local governments to determine education policy. Congressional representatives are also sensitive to the concerns of civil rights groups and disability advocates and want to ensure that all children are educated and not left behind.

All fifty states and the District of Columbia must now determine how they will assess their students and hold themselves accountable. On June 23, 2016, the US Department of Education issued a Dear Colleague letter to encourage stakeholder engagement by states in the design and implementation of their plans. Among the groups that they recommend to be at the table include

“teachers from geographically diverse areas (urban, suburban, rural and tribal areas) who serve different grade levels (e.g., early education, elementary school, secondary school) and who are serving the diverse students served by the law, including students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, English learners, and students with disabilities.”

On July 7, 2016, the US Department of Education also released two Notices of Proposed Rulemaking that address assessments. These rules address what tests states can use for their annual assessments, alternative assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, and accommodations for English language learners and Native American students.

As educators, this is your opportunity to be at the table and to have a voice in your state’s plan. NCTE created ESSA Implementation in the States, a website that will be continually updated to give you the information you need to participate. It lists all fifty states and the District of Columbia. Each state is different: some list websites, others individuals or agencies to contact. Some list town hall meetings and others provide links to surveys. Two states, Oklahoma and Utah, have yet to post any information. We encourage all of you to see what your state has planned and to participate, if you can and so wish.

As educators who are on the front lines every day in the classroom, you have the best knowledge of what works and doesn’t work for your students. Use that knowledge and have a voice.

Form Doesn’t Mean Formulaic: Finding Creative Approaches to ESSA Assessment Plan Design

ESSA Fordham blogI was always a free-verse guy back when I was serious about writing poetry. In creative writing classes, however, my teachers challenged me to express myself with the rules of forms—the villanelle, the sestina—that I would not have chosen on my own. This imposition of structure, even when it felt arbitrary, often forced me to be creative in new ways, to consider economy, focus, and balance in ways that enriched my less-constrained compositions.

The recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) offers states a great deal more flexibility in designing assessment systems than they had under No Child Left Behind and the waiver system it spawned. States will now be genuine authors of their plans to assess student learning and diagnose inequities in outcomes for the first time in over a decade. But the law does impose a form on those plans, prescribing a set of components and characteristics that each system must include. For example, school rankings must consider not only still-mandatory yearly test results aligned with state standards but also a “school quality” indicator, such as a measure of school climate or student engagement. Those of us who might prefer free-verse assessment are out of luck.

In the debate over the bill, there was much disagreement about whether these requirements were the right ones or, indeed, if the federal government ought to be setting requirements at all. This debate will certainly continue, but the immediate challenge for states and districts is to craft assessment plans that best serve their students within the rules set by the law. As this process unfolds, states could look for the paths of least resistance to comply with the law, an approach that was common under the waivers system. Alternatively, like poets writing within a form, they could use the constraints within the law to generate creative approaches that might significantly improve on the status quo.

A recent ESSA assessment design competition hosted by the Thomas D. Fordham Institute in Washington gives me hope the second approach will prevail. Loosely modeled on American Idol, the competition included ten finalists who gave brief presentations about possible designs for state assessment systems within the rules of ESSA. A panel of judges asked questions, and then both judges and audience members voted on how well they liked the proposed system. In the spirit of ESSA itself, which assumes that different approaches will work best for different states, there was no winner declared.

Like the judges, I didn’t find any one of the proposals a perfect solution. However, I was impressed by the thoughtfulness and creativity of many of the entries. Those imagining a more effective assessment system to increase equity seem to have benefited from having to work within the rules of the law.

Proposals included intriguing ideas that go well beyond path-of-least-resistance compliance. Here are some examples:

  • Sherman Dorn of Arizona State University proposed a citizen “grand jury” structure for determining which schools are in need of improvement, juxtaposed against the prevailing “algorithmic” systems that use a rigid quantitative formula for identifying underperforming schools.
  • The BE Foundation proposed the use of student digital portfolios to track student success and school quality, representing learning both in and out of school indexed to competencies and providing information relevant to students, parents, and community stakeholders.
  • Bellwether Education Partners’ proposal suggested that should states over-identify schools in need of improvement based on the blunt instruments of student achievement and growth measures and then choose the schools in which to trigger intervention based on a rigorous inspection process conducted by outside experts.
  • Separate proposals from America Succeeds and Education First both argued for allowing districts some choice of indicators within a larger state-set framework to encourage innovation and improvement in areas targeted by the local community.
  • A thoroughly impressive group of high school students from Kentucky who serve on the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team argued for measuring school climate based on student surveys, an idea echoed in proposals from the University of Southern California and TeachPlus.
  • Several proposals considered incorporation of measures of social-emotional competencies, such as persistence and relationship skills.

Not all these ideas are likely to be good ones. For example, as Bill Penuel of the University of Colorado at Boulder pointed out during the lively Twitter conversation during the competition, using existing noncognitive measures in high-stakes assessments runs into potentially serious problems of validity and gaming the system. However, these proposals do demonstrate that even within the form set by ESSA, there are opportunities to innovate in ways that have the potential to provide better information to states, districts, school, teachers, and parents about how to better prepare students for successful and happy lives. Let’s work to ensure states capitalize on the opportunity.