The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) has officially been released, an earlier draft of which was criticized for not providing critical protections for minority students and English-language learners (ELLs). The new proposal is called the Every Student Succeeds Acts (ESSA) and, if it passes both chambers of Congress in the next couple weeks, is expected to be signed by President Obama by the end of 2015. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights voiced support for the bill, saying that, “Although there are areas of the Every Student Succeeds Act that fall short, we believe this bill is stronger for the most vulnerable students than the outdated No Child Left Behind and current ESEA waivers.”
The ESSA is in some ways divergent from the current ESEA law, the No Child Left Behind Act, with states granted wider discretion in setting their own goals and even greater personalized development for the bottom 5% of schools where less than 66% of students graduates. The biggest switch is that the federal government would have no role in teacher evaluations. For the bottom 5% of schools and schools where certain subgroups of students are consistently struggling, local districts and school staff work together to develop a personalized plan involving new curriculum or hiring experts in certain areas of education. The state will only step in if schools do not improve over four years.
Under ESSA, newly arrived ELLs have the option to not have their test scores included in the evaluation of schools until they have lived in the United States for one year, as is the case under the current law. A second option involves a three year progression, rather than a two year jump. ELLs would take both math and reading assessments and disclose their results publicly (right now, ELLs are only required to take the math assessment in their first year). The second year, ELLs would take the assessments again and incorporate their scores to measure academic growth. Then, in the third year their scores would be treated as any other students.
Although some groups have conflicted feelings about the bill, the general responses have suggested that the ESSA is an improvement, however slight. The statement from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights explained, “We believe the Every Student Succeeds Act is an improvement over the waivers and is a chance to move beyond the No Child Left Behind Act for the millions of students of color, students with disabilities, and English-learner students we represent. However, the compromise that has resulted in the Every Student Succeeds Act is not the bill that we would have written. There are provisions in the proposed legislation that we believe will help remedy deep-seated disparities in our nation’s schools.”
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