CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Department of Education has responded to questions from federal officials about how West Virginia plans to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act.
“They’ll have to tell us if they feel it’s satisfactory,” said Melanie Purkey, executive director for federal programs with the state school system.
The Every Student Succeeds Act, shortened to ESSA by academics who talk about it, was passed in 2015 to replace No Child Left Behind as federal education policy. The new standards give significantly more latitude to states.
States must submit goals and standards and how they plan to achieve them to the US Department of Education, which provides oversight.
Over the past couple of weeks, many states have received additional direction from the U.S. Department of Education about their ESSA proposals.
The U.S. Department of Education sent a letter Dec. 18 to state Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine, asking for several areas of proposed tweaking.
After that, state schools officials participated in a conference call with their federal counterparts. Mostly, the federal officials wanted more details on the state’s plan.
“They reiterated it was requesting more information,” Purkey said in a telephone interview.
Federal officials asked for a resubmission by Jan. 3, and West Virginia has met the deadline.
Some questions from the federal agency deal with how much weight West Virginia gives to different areas of its academic accountability system, whether West Virginia is holding its counties accountable for English-language proficiency and the viability of locally-selected standardized tests in lower grades.
The U.S. education department asked for clarification about West Virginia’s plans to measure progress using Lexile and Quantile scales, rather than the percent of students attaining grade-level proficiency.
“We were able to add quite a bit more data to the response that indicates how the Lexile and Quantile align,” Purkey said.
She said parents of public schools students should have some familiarity with Lexile and Quantile.
“Our belief is that parents have more exposure to those Lexiles because of reading materials that come home. You go on Amazon and purchase materials, you can see what the Lexile score is,” Purkey said.
“That’s why we initially wanted to go with reporting things as Lexiles and Quantiles.”
The federal education department takes West Virginia to task for not identifying the most common language spoken in the state, other than English.
The state department set a 50 percent standard — but no secondary language currently meets that mark. Purkey said the state clarified to say the language with the second most frequency would be cited.
“It also required us to identify the most frequent language. If we have no language that reaches 50 percent, it will be the language with the most frequent participation,” Purkey said. “Currently that would be Spanish.”
The federal department also asked for more information about locally-selected standardized tests in lower grades.
“What we did was provide more information on the process we’re using to determine what an approvable benchmark is,” Purkey said.
She said the state was able to provide a list of what standardized tests are already being used in lower grade levels in West Virginia.
“We were able to provide, within our response, a list of tests the districts have chosen to show it’s really not a wide variety,” Purkey said. “We’re able to keep the variants down because of the criteria we’ve put with the assessments that have been chosen.”
This may not be the last of the back-and-forth on the Every Student Succeeds Act. The state officials still expect a reply from the federal agency.
“We wait for their response to our response. The clock is ticking,” Purkey said. “They need to have approved us by around Jan.15 or 17. They need to be giving us a response to our response pretty quickly.”
She continued, “I think they can quickly look at our response. Hopefully they can get back to us within the next week.”