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Chairmen Eichelberger and Hickernell Respond to PDE’s Proposed ESSA State Plan
HARRISBURG – Sen. John Eichelberger (R-30th) and Rep. Dave Hickernell (Lancaster/Dauphin), Majority Chairmen of the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s Senate and House Education Committees (respectively), are deeply disappointed that the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) largely ignored legislative comments and input on the promulgation of a Consolidated State Plan for the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Federal law – i.e., Section 1005 of the ESSA – calls for each state to develop a plan to implement ESSA “with timely and meaningful consultation” with members of the state legislatures.

Prior to the submission of the final plan to the U.S. Department of Education, a formal public comment period on PDE’s draft of the plan was held, beginning Aug. 2nd and through Aug. 31st. During this public comment period, the Chairmen jointly submitted comments on the draft plan (attached), which included questions and concerns detailed over seven pages regarding proposed changes to the state assessment system, the new accountability measures proposed by the plan, and the interventions recommended for academically struggling schools.

While the Chairmen received correspondence acknowledging receipt of their joint comments/recommendations, until yesterday they remained optimistic that PDE would take their recommendations into account. However, it is clear to the Chairmen after reviewing the final product that PDE failed to seriously consider and incorporate their suggestions into the plan that was submitted to the federal government.

“Sen. Eichelberger and I submitted comments and concerns regarding the State Plan because we felt there was a significant lack of detail missing from PDE’s draft,” Hickernell said. “As Secretary Rivera has said many times, the new ESSA law is a once in a decade opportunity to chart a new course in an effort to ensure Pennsylvania’s students receive a high-quality education regardless of ZIP code.”

After reviewing the final plan submitted by the Wolf Administration yesterday, the Chairmen remain concerned that the plan, if approved by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, would actually move the state’s transparency and accountability efforts backwards, and dilute academic achievement initiatives.

"Three of the four Education Chairmen in the General Assembly have provided extensive and specific concerns about the proposed state ESSA plan. Given that the General Assembly has the ultimate state constitutional responsibility to oversee our education system, the failure to include any of our recommendations is extremely disappointing.” Eichelberger said. “Unfortunately, the plan kicks the can down the road, and appears to benefit the education establishment and its consultants more than the children of Pennsylvania. We intend to notify Secretary DeVos of the Legislature’s specific concerns about accountability and school improvement in Pennsylvania’s submitted plan and we hope to open dialogue about our recommendations for changes during the federal review process.”

According to Hickernell, the plan notes that many important details related to the proposed accountability system have yet to be determined, such as the academic cut points which will be used to designate inadequate school performance in identifying struggling schools and the uniform statewide “exit criteria” which will be used to evaluate the ongoing progress of these schools, which leaves him worried.

“Our comments specifically requested that PDE provide clear direction in the plan regarding the respective levels of performance and progress that schools will need to demonstrate in order to meet federal targets,” Hickernell noted. “I continue to believe that these elements should be included in the plan going forward to ensure that the identification process is transparent and predictable for schools.”

Above all, Hickernell believes that the accountability system proposed by the plan must be understandable and meaningful to students, parents, and the general public.

“The plan also pursues a new public-facing school accountability system, in addition to what is already required under state law, and, as it’s currently proposed, this new system will not provide a clear, summative assessment of how schools are doing,” Hickernell said. “Not only is existence of multiple systems unnecessarily costly, but I also believe that a new system that does not include a summative rating may limit the ability of users to meaningfully compare schools.” Eichelberger concurred, noting: “the creation of additional measures seem unnecessarily duplicative, and multiple forward-facing accountability systems will confuse the public and have the potential to mask underlying problems pertaining to the performance of schools.”

Pennsylvania’s State Plan must now be reviewed and approved by the U.S. Department of Education. Hickernell and Eichelberger now intend to share their concerns with the U.S. Department of Education and continue to advocate for consideration of additional changes to the plan that will promote a robust and transparent system of accountability for all of Pennsylvania’s public schools and students.

Read the comments and suggestions from the chairmen in the attached documents.

Representative Dave Hickernell
98th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Charles Lardner
 / 717.260.6443

Senator John H. Eichelberger, Jr.
30th District
Senate of Pennsylvania

Media Contact:Patrick Schurr
 / 717-787-5490

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