Less Testing May Help Every Child Achieve

After weeks of negotiations, U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) have released draft legislation designed to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), better known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

The bipartisan agreement, known as the “Every Child Achieves Act of 2015,” promises to fix problems with the NCLB Act while keeping intact the parts of the law that are working, and provides the basis for lawmakers to move forward on ESEA revision as early as next week.

“Senator Murray and I have worked together to produce bipartisan legislation to fix ‘No Child Left Behind,'” said Senator Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “Basically, our agreement continues important measurements of the academic progress of students but restores to states, local school districts, teachers and parents the responsibility for deciding what to do about improving student achievement. This should produce fewer and more appropriate tests. It is the most effective way to advance higher standards and better teaching in our 100,000 public schools. We have found remarkable consensus about the urgent need to fix this broken law, and also on how to fix it. We look forward to a thorough discussion and debate in the Senate education committee next week.”

The new bill would end the need for states to get NCLB waivers and would keep in place successful elements of ESEA. It would strengthen state and local control by requiring states to create their own accountability systems in compliance with minimum federal standards; maintain “the federally required two tests in reading and math per child per year in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, as well as science tests given three times between grades 3 and 12”; end federal test-based accountability but states will still be required to use tests in their accountability systems, but they will be able to determine the weight they are given, along with graduation rates, college and career readiness and English proficiency among English language learners, all of which will also be requirements; protect “important fiscal protections of federal dollars, including maintenance of effort requirements, which help ensure that federal dollars supplement state and local education dollars, with additional flexibility for school districts in meeting those requirements”; make available federal grants to states and school districts to help low-performing schools, but the federal government would be prohibited from mandating or defining the specific steps that must be taken to improve those schools; provide “resources to states and school districts to implement activities to support teachers, principals and other educators, including allowable uses of funds for high quality induction programs for new teachers, ongoing rigorous professional development opportunities for teachers and programs to recruit new educators to the profession.” Teacher evaluation systems will be allowed but not required; and bar the federal government from mandating or incentivizing state adoption of any particular set of standards, such as the Common Core.

“This bipartisan compromise is an important step toward fixing the broken No Child Left Behind law,” said Murray, in a news release. “While there is still work to be done, this agreement is a strong step in the right direction that helps students, educators and schools, gives states and districts more flexibility while maintaining strong federal guardrails and helps make sure all students get the opportunity to learn, no matter where they live, how they learn or how much money their parents make. I was proud to be a voice for Washington state students and priorities as we negotiated this agreement, and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to build on this bipartisan compromise and move legislation through the Senate, the House, and get it signed into law.”

“The Senate releasing an ESEA draft is movement but we will review the bill with a fine tooth comb looking for language that ushers in a new vision for our nation’s students and public schools; a vision that promotes equity and excellence for all students regardless of the zip code in which they live,” said Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, in a prepared statement.

“We are also looking for concrete steps that remedy opportunity gaps for students and fix the broken test, label and punish regime ushered in under No Child Left Behind,” added García. “We want to see a bill that goes a long way to empower educators — as trusted professionals — to make classroom and school decisions, instead of politicians, to ensure student success.”

The White House called the bipartisan agreement “an important step” in the effort to replace No Child Left Behind, but stressed that any legislation should ensure that teachers and parents know how their schools are doing every year, while Education Secretary Arne Duncan lamented the lack of provisions for early education in a tweet.

The full bill is available at help.senate.gov. A summary is also here.

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