What's Next As 'Every Student Succeeds' Replaces 'No Child Left Behind'
When Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act in early December, it put more power over public schools in the hands of states.
Under the No Child Left Behind law, the federal government meted out consequences for schools and districts where achievement on standardized tests were too low. Schools that repeatedly missed testing targets (by having too few students pass state exams) faced the most severe consequences - such as restructuring or wholesale reconstitution.
That aspect of NCLB had helped the popularity of certain education reforms. Schools facing restructuring - such as Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt high schools in Portland - implemented "small schools," with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Five years ago, nine Oregon high school campuses had small schools, and six new high schools were running small academies with Gates money, according to the Oregon Small Schools Initiative. The Gates Foundation has since moved on to other education reforms, and several of the Oregon high schools have returned to larger, comprehensive programs.
No Child Left Behind also required investments in tutoring programs, and districts had to facilitate student transfers from failing schools to other schools, often with significant financial consequences.
Under the new Every Student Succeeds law, it's up to states to monitor the success and failure of their public schools, under accountability plans they'll submit to the U.S. Department of Education.
The feds have given states some marching orders - as well as some flexibility, according to an analysis from Oregon education officials.
On testing, states are still required to test all students in grades 3 through 8, and in high school, just like under NCLB. But unlike NCLB, states can choose to use multiple "interim" exams, rather than a single, end-of-year summative test. For high school students, the Every Student Succeeds Act allows schools to drop the state exam entirely, if they use a national exam instead (the ACT or SAT has been suggested among education officials).
On school accountability, the No Child Left Behind law rated all public schools as either "meeting Adequate Yearly Progress," or "not meeting." Consequences only attached if schools received federal Title I money (spent on schools with the highest concentration of low-income students), but all schools got published ratings. As the benchmark for "meeting AYP," rose year-to-year, the number of schools missing the target continued to rise. The Obama Administration intervened in recent years and approved federal waivers for dozens of states - including Oregon.
Under the Every Student Succeeds law, the focus narrows to the bottom five percent of schools in each state, and high schools graduating less than 67 percent of its students. That narrow focus has raised eyebrows among some in the education community - and on the Los Angeles Times editorial board - who worry struggling schools could slip through cracks in oversight.
Those are only some of the changes. Some states are looking favorably at language in Every Student Succeeds that forbids the U.S. Department of Education from pressuring states to use the Common Core State Standards. Teacher unions appreciate that the Obama Administration's interest in connecting teacher evaluations to student test scores was not included in the new education law.
Every Student Succeeds is enough of a transformation that Congress is keeping No Child Left Behind (and the federal waiver system) in place through the 2016-17 school year - giving states time to come up with their own accountability plans. The U.S. Department also has to write implementing rules, so states understand more precisely what's expected of them.
The Oregon Department of Education is starting work on its plans as soon as next week. Officials are convening six separate work groups on major aspects of school oversight - accountability, standards, assessments, report card, school improvement, and teacher/leader quality.
The biggest tangle between Oregon and the federal education department in the last year has come from parents' and students' opposition to standardized tests.
Congress appeared to strike a balance, consistent with the Every Student Succeeds law's move from federal to state control. The ESSA maintains the 95 percent participation goal. But states can decide how much missing that target matters in its school accountability system. The new law also calls on states to include factors other than test scores in how it rates schools. What those factors might be are again, left mostly up to states - with the feds in an approval role.
Copyright 2015 Oregon Public Broadcasting