On Thursday Nov. 19, the House-Senate Conference Committee approved S-1177 (the Every Child Achieves Act), the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), with amendments, by a vote of 39-1. The House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate could vote on the bill as early as the first week of December.
ESEA (popularly known as No Child Left Behind, or NCLB) expired in 2007, though its requirements have remained in place. In 2012, the Obama administration began issuing waivers to dozens of states when it became clear that the law’s strictest mandates were not going to be met.
The proposal is expected to keep some of the NCLB law’s most-important transparency measures in place, like continued annual testing in grades three through eight and once in high school. And it includes some protections for low-performing schools, those that have a population of poor and minority students, or students in special education and those with a majority of English-language learners.
States would have more authority when it comes to almost everything else, including how to fix low-performing schools and how to assist schools that may be doing well overall, but still struggle to help certain groups of students (such as English-language learners).
The framework would also consolidate a number of smaller programs into a block grant and it would prevent the federal education department from interfering with state prerogatives on teacher evaluation, testing, standards, school turnarounds, and more.
The Conference Committee adopted amendments that would authorize studies of the Title I funding formula, and federal investments in early childhood education. Other amendments involved improving integration of STEM subjects and the arts, streamlining testing and assessments by clarifying that states may eliminate unnecessary and duplicative assessments, training on the appropriate use of data, and increasing dropout prevention efforts.
On Test Refusals The measure would allow states to create their own test participation requirement laws. But it would maintain the federal requirement for 95 percent participation in tests. However, unlike under the NCLB law, in which schools with participation rates of lower than 95 percent were automatically seen as failures, local districts and states would decide what should happen in schools that miss targets. States would have to take low testing participation into consideration in their accountability systems.
Local and Innovative Tests The bill sets up a pilot project, giving a handful of states the chance to give locally developed tests, with the permission of the U.S. Department of Education. The goal is for districts to try new forms of assessment that could eventually be used statewide.
The framework also allows for the use of locally selected tests at the high school level, with state permission. So a district could, in theory, use the SAT or ACT as its high school test, instead of the traditional state exam.
On Programs The Conference Committee’s bill provides for block grants for physical education, mathematics and science partnerships, and Advanced Placement. In fact, dozens of programs are included in the block grant, some of which, such as education technology, haven’t seen much federal funding in years.
Authorization Timeframe The bill would only authorize ESEA for four more years, (beginning in the 2016-2017 school year), as opposed to the typical five. That gives lawmakers a chance to revisit the policy under the next president, should they choose to do so.