posted Dec 27, 2015, 1:30 PM by Michael Wright
updated Dec 27, 2015, 1:34 PM
After years of failed efforts, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has been replaced with Every Student Succeeds Act. President Barack Obama reversed course with the stroke of a pen last Thursday, putting states and districts back at the wheel when it comes to teacher evaluation, standards, school turnarounds, and accountability, through a new iteration of the five-decade old Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Before signing the legislation, Obama said the Every Student Succeeds Act "builds on the reforms that have helped us make so much progress already."
"This bill upholds the core value that animated the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson, the value that says education, the key to economic opportunity, is a civil right," Obama said.
So what does ESEA mean for states and districts and their responsibilities?
He said that while the authors of the No Child Left Behind Act, the previous iteration of ESEA, were well-intentioned, "In practice it often fell short" and led to too much time spent on testing, among other problems. And while his administration offered NCLB waivers, he said, "The truth is, that could only do so much."
Before Obama signed ESSA, his administration put out "A Progress Report on Elementary and Secondary Education" that touts the improvement of public schools and K-12 policy on his watch. In addition to calling attention to the nation's all-time high graduation rate of 81 percent and historic lows in the dropout rate (more on thathere), the report highlights Race to the Top, the Investing in Innovation program, and various teacher initiatives that began on Obama's watch.
- No more federally-mandated teacher evaluation through test scores.
- The bill combines some 50 programs, some of which haven't been funded in years, into a big giant block grant.
- Districts that get more than $30,000 will have to spend at least 20 percent of their funding on at least one activity that helps students become well-rounded, and another 20 percent on at least one activity that helps kids be safe and healthy. And part of the money could be spent on technology. (But no more than 15 percent can go to technology infastructure.)
- States would still have to submit accountability plans to the Education Department. These new ESSA plans would start in the 2017-18 school year. The names of peer-reviewers would have to be made public.
- No more expectation that states get all students to proficiency by the 2013-14 school year, as under NCLB Classic. Instead, states can pick their own goals, both a big long-term goal, and smaller, interim goals. These goals must address: proficiency on tests, English-language proficiency, and graduation rates. Goals have to set an expectation that all groups that are furthest behind close gaps in achievement and graduation rates.
- States need to incorporate at least four indicators into their accountability systems. States would absolutely have to have a new indicator that gets at students' opportunity to learn. Possibilities include: student engagement, educator engagement, access to and completion of advanced coursework, post-secondary readiness, school climate/safety, or whatever else the state thinks makes sense. Importantly, though, this indicator has to be disaggregated by subgroup.
- States would still have to test students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, and break out the data for whole schools, plus different "subgroups" of students (English-learners, students in special education, racial minorities, those in poverty).
- Schools have to come up with an evidence-based plan to help the particular group of students who are falling behind. For example, a school that's having trouble with students in special education could decide to try out a new curriculum with evidence to back it up and hire a very experienced coach to help train teachers on it.
- Districts monitor these plans. If the school continues to fall short, the district steps in. The district decides just when that kind of action is necessary, though; there's no specified timeline in the deal.
- Importantly, there's also a provision in the deal calling for a "comprehensive improvement plan." States and districts have to take more-aggressive action in schools where subgroups are chronically under-performing, despite local interventions. Their performance has to look really bad though, as bad as the performance of students in the bottom 5 percent of schools over time.
- States also have to somehow figure in participation rates on state tests. (Schools with less than 95 percent participation are supposed to have that included, somehow.) But participation rate is a standalone factor, not a separate indicator on its own.
- States would have to continue to identify the bottom 5 percent of schools. These schools have to be identified at least once every three years. But districts could be in the driver's seat on these turnarounds. States must monitor them closely however, and step in themselves if schools continue to struggle.
- Districts work with teachers and school staff to come up with an evidence-based plan.
- If schools continue to founder for years (no more than four) the state is supposed to step in with its own plan. That means a state could take over the school if it wanted, or fire the principal, or turn the school into a charter, just like states do under NCLB waivers now. (But, importantly, unlike under waivers, there aren't any musts - states get to decide what kind of action to take.)
- Districts could also allow for public school choice out of seriously low-performing schools, but they have to give priority to the students who need it most.
- States must adopt "challenging" academic standards.
- The legislation says essentially, that only 1 percent of students overall can be given alternative tests. (That's about 10 percent of students in special education.)
- High Schools must share proficiency on tests, English-language proficiency rates, plus at least one other indicator that focuses a little more on whether students have the opportunity to learn or whether students have the opportunity to learn, or are ready for post-secondary work. And also, test participation has to be incorporated in some way. (But it's a standalone factor, not a separate indicator like test, grad rates, or those non-academic factors.)
Iowa ASCD: The Source - December 18, 2015