December 9th, 2015, was a big day for education. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was passed by the Senate on a 85-12 vote. It was to President Barack Obama, who signed the bill into law on December 10th . The last remnants of the extremely unpopular No Child Left Behind Law have been swept away. Everyone cheered and exchanged high fives. Now what? While the passing of ESSA is an exciting event, there is still much to be done. To begin with, here are some highlights of the bill:
- States will have to report accountability plans to the federal government.
- Proficiency on tests, English language learners and graduation rates are still going to be important measures at the local level.
- Accountability systems must have at least four indicators, including three academic and one basically of the state’s choosing. High schools would have to include graduation rates in the indicators.
- Only 1% of special education students could be given an alternative test.
- States would be required to adopt “challenging” academic standards. This could be the Common Core State Standards but it is not required.
These are just a few of the highlights. The bill itself is over 1000 pages long (you can access it HERE). One thousand pages of legislation that will be coming our way sooner rather than later. So, I come back to the original question. Now what?
Like so many laws that are passed, there will be months (if not years) of wading through each and every proposition and section. We will try and interpret what each of these sections mean and how they affect state and local school divisions. Then we will look at these interpretations and try and figure out how to apply them to each individual school. The long term effects of ESSA, I would venture to guess, won’t be felt for a year or longer.
There are several important notes for school leaders to be aware of. States are authorized to reserve up to 3% of Title II funds to provide support for school leaders. This can take the form of leadership academies or some other program to prepare school leaders. Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) would officially go away, as would the “highly qualified teacher” designation. The requirement under the School Improvement Grants to remove the principal of lower performing schools in order to receive federal dollars has also been erased. States would be required to take over schools, after no more than four years, that continue to underperform. States could opt to remove the principal, take over the school or convert it to a charter school.
The piece on accountability is going to be especially interesting as it unfolds. While those on the SOL Innovation Committee continue to do good work revising the Standards of Learning here in the Commonwealth of Virginia, there are other things that need to be remembered. While tests are being removed, accountability is not. So how will teachers be held accountable in an area of reduced federal government involvement and fewer SOL tests? What will that look like in different divisions across the state? How will we, as a Commonwealth, determine low performing schools and more importantly, how will we assist those schools? These are just a few of the many questions that are bound to arise as ESSA begins the implementation process. I doubt there are many people sorry to see NCLB go. But there is still a lot of work left to be done.