Report card: How AZ advances equity through ESSA - AZEdNews
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Report card: How AZ advances equity through ESSA

A Del Vista Sur Accelerated Academy Student Working In The Classroom. Photo By Brooke Martinez/ AZEdNews

As Arizona legislators develop the budget, education advocates seek public education investment that advances equity by providing more funding for students with the greatest needs and fewest assets.  

“It should not be the case that I can travel to any metropolitan city and understand what the trends are for Black children as it relates to literacy and reading issues. These are systemic issues,” said Adenike Huggins, senior director of education policy and advocacy for National Urban League, at the Engaging Arizona in Advancing Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) event in Phoenix.

“We must use opportunities like the Every Student Succeeds Act to re-imagine what education is like for students who are most vulnerable, but also for those who could benefit the most from good quality education, because that’s what equity is,” Huggins said.

When policy makers construct the state’s K-12 education budget, “the preponderance of research suggests we should be focusing on student equity,” said Dick Foreman, president of Arizona Business and Education Coalition during a PBS Arizona Horizon interview. “We clearly have to have some money moving around to where the need is.”

Video by Morgan Willis/AZEdNews: Discussion at Engaging Arizona in Advancing ESSA event

Equality is giving every student the same resources, but equity is giving each student the resources they need to reach the same goal, said Teniqua Broughton, executive director of The State of Black Arizona.  

“Equity is the removal of historical barriers,” Broughton said at the ESSA event in Phoenix. “The system was designed and not created in a way that all children can succeed, so we need to remove those barriers and create a system where all students have the necessary resources to reach their potential.”

A poverty or equity weight would add investments or a weighted system to the public education funding formula that would help provide the resources low-income students need to succeed, said Chris Kotterman, director of governmental relations for Arizona School Boards Association.

Kids don’t all start off at the same point, yet they’re all expected to graduate high school – “some start without breakfast, some start without a safe home, some start without a way to get to school every day,” Foreman said

“Until we figure out how to provide some equity so that all Arizona students can achieve all of our expectations, we’re going to continue to have this dysfunctional (education funding) formula,” Foreman said.

Report card: How AZ advances equity through ESSA Engaging-Arizona-in-ESSA-Presenters-1024x453
Presenters at the Engaging Arizona in Advancing Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) event in Phoenix. Second from the left Natalie Alvarez with Greater Phoenix Urban League, Adenike Huggins with National Urban League, then moving right Dr. Erica Maxwell with Arizona Dept. of Ed, Teniqua Broughton with The State of Black Arizona, Rep. Dr. Gerae Peten, George Dean with Greater Phoenix Urban League, Dr. DeMarcus Jenkins with African American Taskforce. Photo by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

Equity for all students through ESSA

Recently, education advocates, community leaders, legislators, and nonprofits came together to look at how effective Arizona is at advancing equity for all students – especially students of color and students from families with low incomes – through its Every Student Succeeds Act state plan.

They also looked at ways they could partner with Arizona Department of Education’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion practices to ensure all students have the access, resources and opportunities they need to succeed in life.

“This is an opportunity to gather input from the community on those necessary strategies,” said Dr. DeMarcus Jenkins, chair of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s African American Advisory Taskforce, at the ESSA event Dec. 16, 2019, presented by The State of Black Arizona and the Greater Phoenix Urban League in partnership with the Arizona Department of Education.

“Educators, stakeholders, district and system leaders are tasked with the extraordinary responsibility of ensuring that all of our students are equally provided a high-quality education, but Every Student Succeeds Act legislation considers the process of engaging stakeholders as an essential component for student success,” Dr. Jenkins said.

Since Arizona’s ESSA plan was posted in March 2017, the state has had some federal monitoring, and there have been revisions in the accountability ratings system, said Dr. Erica Maxwell, associate superintendent of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the Arizona Department of Education.

Dr. Maxwell has been meeting with organizations and local education agencies to discuss some of the challenges students face and strategizing solutions to provide safe, equitable and inclusive student environments.

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Del Vista Sur Accelerated Academy students working on a classroom project toghether. Photo by Brooke Martinez/ AZEdNews

Arizona’s ESSA plan “is designed to help the achievement of our children and also promote equality and equity in our schools, but we know that here in Arizona that’s not always true, so we are very fortunate to have this team in the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s office now that is focusing on this,” said Natalie Alvarez, chief operating officer of Greater Phoenix Urban League.

“I’ve heard about the achievement gap for all of my life,” Alvarez said. “We keep seeing the numbers. We keep seeing that our African American children and our Native American children are not succeeding on AzMERIT, and it’s not necessarily on the resources of their school.”

“Every student needs a quality education, no matter what ZIP code they’re in, but it’s still not happening,” Alvarez said. “We really need to come together and make things happen. With the revisions, we’re going to see that.”

National Urban League’s Arizona report card

The National Urban League recently released an ESSA State Plan Equity Report Card giving Arizona an overall poor rating on 12 equity indicators, with an excellent grade on three indicators, a sufficient on five other indicators and poor on four indicators.

The report card was developed “as a culmination of what we were working on with ESSA, after the state plans were all approved by the U.S. Department of Education, we embarked on an analysis – a review of 37 state plans,” Huggins said.

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Over the course of looking at the plans, the National Urban League developed 12 equity indicators in April 2019, criteria of what qualifies as excellent, sufficient and poor, and provided opportunities for state departments of education to react, respond and provide feedback on areas where there could be improvement, Huggins said. The report cards are just part of the National Urban League’s report “Standards of equity and excellence: A lens on ESSA state plans” released in April 2019.

“It has been wonderful to see the affiliates in Arizona really take hold of the analysis of the state plan for Arizona and really hold to account what is going to happen after the plan,” Huggins said. “What we read is simply what the states submitted to the federal government and said this is what we plan to do. It’s great to have advocates and allies on the ground to really show them what the plan was stated and what’s actually happening in reality.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman has been working with groups around the state to make sure their voices are heard, because the state has until April 2020 to enact changes in these areas, said Broughton said.  

Unfortunately, Arizona received a poor score on the 12 equity indicators, and “three of our priority areas, so that gives us a lot of opportunity and potential to do work,” Broughton said.

The focus is now on subgroup performance, equitable access to effective teachers, and supports and interventions for struggling schools, Broughton said.

“You hear a lot, ‘You want to go to school in this community, because it is an A school or it is a B school,’ because a lot of businesses promote schools based on their letter grade,” Broughton said.

But many people may not know that if the school or district chooses, they do not have to include subgroups AzMERIT scores – such as English Language Learners, children of color, low-income students, homeless or migrant students, and special education students – in those letter grade calculations, Broughton said.

But Supt. Hoffman said the state can increase accountability by making subgroups more meaningful and requiring that schools don’t include subgroups receive a lower score in that area of the letter grade, Broughton said.

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Del Vista Sur Accelerated Academy students take a quick break from their classwork. Photo by Brooke Martinez/ AZEdNews

In addition, the definition of consistently underperforming used to identify schools for targeted support is vague, Broughton said.

“There’s not a lot of difference in what we’re doing for schools that need that support and those that need additional targeted support,” Broughton said. “We want to define that better and we can strive towards really making sure there’s a difference.”

As far as educator equity goes, “our plan is very vague for teachers,” the definition of ineffective is lacking, as are the efforts to reduce the incidence of low-income students and students of color being taught by out-of-field, ineffective or inexperienced teachers, and the state should prioritize setting aside three percent of Title II funds for efforts to improve equitable access to effective, diverse teachers, principals and other school leaders, Broughton said.

Also, “we have the opportunity for the state to prioritize professional development on cultural competency in its plan with a few details, but I want more than a few details,” Broughton said.

The state has the opportunity to reduce the number of low-income students and students of color being taught by out-of-field, ineffective or inexperienced teachers by working closely with local education agencies, Broughton said.

The state also is working at implementing evidence-based strategies that create a pipeline of diverse educators using place-based efforts, residencies, mentoring, induction and support, Broughton said.

“This is a conversation I know for sure that the African American Advisory Committee is having with the Superintendent of Public Instruction about creating ways to get people of color excited about coming to Arizona to teach, acknowledge that we need teachers of color, and we need to create a pool of money to make sure that happens,” Broughton said.

“At the end of the day, we want all students to succeed because of not in spite of,” Broughton said.