Eight years since George W. Bush’s much-criticized No Child Left Behind law expired in 2007, Congress is finally poised to pass its replacement.
It’s called the Every Student Succeeds Act, and its departure from standardized testing could be just what American public education needs.
Members of Congress will issue their votes over the coming weeks, and President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law by the end of the year.
First introduced in 2001, No Child Left Behind required schools to issue standardized tests to all students at all grade levels in order for the schools to receive funding.
While its intentions of closing the achievement gap were good, the policy was mostly seen a failure.
As schools felt pressure to stand out and meet state test score requirements, they sent that pressure downward. Teachers began shaping their lesson plans according to what would be tested, rather than what students needed to learn.
As a result, the kids that got pushed forward weren’t always ready. They may have been moving through the system at a normal rate according to the tests, but in reality their education still lagged behind that of their peers, and now perhaps to an even greater degree.
The new law would work toward reversing the damage done by No Child Left Behind.
Among its changes:
States will get to decide what their standardized tests look like.
Kids will still need to be tested in reading and math every year from third to eighth grade, and once again in high school, but the tests won’t look the same as under No Child Left Behind.
Under the new system, states will get to decide how to assess their students’ progress, not the federal government.
Washington won’t “mandate or incentivize states to adopt or maintain any particular set of standards,” a Senate report on the new law reads. “States will be free to decide what academic standards they will maintain in their states.”
States can (and must) incorporate measures in assessing a school beyond standardized tests.
Though tests will still be heavily weighted in the assessment of schools, states will also look at the kind of learning climate their schools create, how engaged the teachers are, how safe the school is, what kind of access kids have to advanced classes, and whether they succeed in those classes.
Each year, states will be required to create solutions to help the bottom 5% of schools in terms of test performance and those schools that graduate fewer than two-third of the student body. It is up to the states to determine the course of action if a school chronically underperforms.
As part of the new policy, 7% of the $500 million set aside by the federal government to help students in poverty can be used toward turning around failing schools. That 7% is up from 4% under No Child Left Behind.
Teacher evaluations will be conducted entirely at the state level, not federally.
The Every Student Succeeds Act is the kind of education system that experts have wanted for decades.
Earlier this year, veteran educator and beloved TED speaker Ken Robinson told Tech Insider that the best thing schools can do for their students is judge them on an individual level. Standardized tests kill kids’ spirit because they send the message that numbers matter more than critical thinking, creativity, or smarts.
While standardized tests are “very powerful measures,” Robinson says that “they’re often being applied in ways that harm the engagement and culture of schools. I mean, if you look at America, they haven’t worked at all.”
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