Policy

AYP Gets the Boot in Every Child Achieves Act

The potential successor to No Child Left Behind — the Every Child Achieves Act — passed in the United States Senate Thursday in a bipartisan vote of 81-17. This bill is a proposed replacement for the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which funds public education in this country.

Now the difficult work begins of merging the contents of this Senate bill with those in a version approved by the House of Representatives last week. That bill, the "Student Success Act," passed on Republican votes alone; not a single Democrat approved it.

Some observers noted that in spite of both chambers being Republican-controlled, negotiations to reconcile the two proposals will be intense. The reason: They need to produce a bill that President Obama will sign, according to Phillip Lovell, vice president of policy at the Alliance for Excellent Education.

As Lovell explained in a video about the passage of ECAA, the House "passed its bill by the slimmest of margins — 218 votes. A number of Republicans voted against it because the bill wasn't conservative enough. But in order for a bill to be signed by the President, it must have a stronger role in education, meaning the House can't rely on passing the bill by relying on Republican votes alone. They're going to have to secure some Democratic votes."

As the New York Times summarized, "Both bills return some main powers to local governments but they differ over the ongoing role of the federal government and funding."

The two versions of the bill share several similarities. For example, both bills limit the ability of the federal Department of Education to issue regulations. In a nod to Congressional displeasure with Common Core State Standards, both also prohibit the federal government from stipulating specific academic standards. Both bills keep annual reading and math testing but give states more room to decide how the testing will be used for measuring school and educator performance.

The Senate version requires states to continue to use tests in accountability; the House edition doesn't. Gone, reported the Alliance's Senior Director of Policy, Jessica Cardichon, is "an acronym education wonks love to hate: AYP, adequate yearly progress."

Lack of accountability is an area where the President could balk, said Lovell. "The White House and Congressional Democrats have been pushing for a stronger federal role in accountability than currently exists in either bill." No one wants to maintain AYP, he added, but the Obama administration and Democrats "want to insert a few guard rails, including a requirement that states identify and provide state interventions and support to the lowest performing 5 percent of schools, schools with large achievement gaps and high schools where a third of students fail to graduate."

Education organizations have jumped into the discussion to applaud passage of the Senate bill and provide reminders about what's most important to them.

SETDA, the State Education Technology Directors Association, gave a nod of thanks to the Senate for multiple references to technology. As an example, the bill calls for educators to "have the knowledge and skills to use technology, including computer-based assessments and blended learning strategies, to personalize learning"; and for students — especially those in rural, remote and underserved areas — to have access to "high-quality digital learning experiences, digital resources and access to online courses taught by effective educators."

Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, which represents 3 million teachers, said the bill represented a "paradigm shift away from the one-size-fits-all assessments that educators know hurt students, diminish learning, and narrow the curriculum and that they fought to change." In a prepared statement she encouraged Congress to act "swiftly" in reconciling the two pieces of legislature to create a version that the president would sign. "Educators across the country have watched every floor speech, counted along with every vote and made their voices heard with a staggering volume of outreach to elected leaders. Those same educators will not rest until a final bill has the President's signature."

Three organizations representing school principals called the elimination of AYP and "100 percent proficiency requirements" a "huge step forward from current legislation." However, in a prepared statement the American Federation of School Administrators, National Association of Elementary School Principals and National Association of Secondary School Principals said they would like to see the use of Title II funds for principal professional development made a requirement, not an optional activity, and that states and districts be required to align principal evaluations systems with a school leadership framework they advocate. They'd also prefer that states be required to base assessment and accountability systems on student growth to avoid "overreliance on standardized assessments."

The Senate bill also received support from the School Superintendents Association, in particular for "restoring a more proper balance between federal, state and local government in public education." As Executive Director Daniel Domenech said in a statement, "By returning autonomy to the state and local level, ECAA recognizes the importance of empowering state and local leaders to use their professional knowledge and proximal location to make the decisions necessary to successfully adhere to their educational missions."

The job of developing a final bill that will go to the White House for approval needs to happen this year, emphasized the Alliance's Lovell, in order to avoid the contention that's bound to arise during a presidential election year. This time around, he added, the process will be complicated by the fact that it will "involve more players than have been at the table so far."

That work is expected to kick off in full starting this fall, when both chambers are back from their summer recesses.

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