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NCLB Draft Rewrite Reduces Stakes of Standardized Testing, Brings Major Changes to Federal Ed Policy

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the education committee, and Ranking Member 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).

"Senator Murray and I have worked together to produce bipartisan legislation to fix 'No Child Left Behind,'" said Alexander, in a prepared statement. "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, dubbed the Every Child Achieves Act, would end the need for states to get NCLB waivers and would keep in place successful elements of ESEA, such as required reporting of disaggregated student achievement data.

Other provisions of the bill, according to information released by Alexander's office, include:

  • Strengthening state and local control by requiring states to create their own accountability systems in compliance with minimum federal standards, such as including all students in the system, providing student achievement data and creating challenging standards for all students;
  • Maintenance of "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" to ensure that parents can see how well their children are doing. A pilot program will aim to provide states more flexibility in designing innovative assessment systems;
  • The end of federal test-based accountability. 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;
  • Maintenance of "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";
  • Provide grants to help states and districts fix schools identified by the new state accountability systems as underperforming. Districts will be responsible for creating evidence-based interventions for those schools, with help from the states, but the federal government will be barred from mandating steps to improve the 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
  • The federal government will be barred 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 full bill is available at help.senate.gov. A summary is also available on the Senate's site.

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at [email protected].