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How will Every Student Succeeds Act transform education?

New law has as re-correction from No Child Left Behind

The No Child Left Behind Era officially ended in December as President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The new law has been hailed by education leaders as an important re-correction.

“ESSA maintains the federal government’s focus on equity but does so in a manner that returns authority and flexibility to the state and local level,” says Noelle Ellerson, associate executive director of policy & advocacy at the AASA, the School Superintendents Association.

Here’s a closer look at four of ESSA’s most important shifts:

1. Increased flexibility on accountability

Annual measurable objectives are gone, and states now bear the responsibility for establishing appropriate measures of accountability. “Accountability is no longer going to be just test-based,” says Bob Farrace, director of public affairs for the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Other factors that influence student and school success, such as access to high-level coursework and attendance data, will likely be incorporated into accountability measures.

The law also gives states much more flexibility regarding teacher and principal evaluation. “We can now get back to what we know is best practice around teacher evaluation, which is a collaborative process using multiple measures at the local level,” says Mary Kusler, director of government relations for the National Education Association.

2. Assessment audits encouraged

School districts may reserve up to 7 percent of their Title 1 funds for school improvement activities not specifically outlined at the federal level—including audits of current assessment practices. “Schools will be able to look at their whole continuum of testing and eventually scale back” on standardized testing, Farrace says.

3. Keep or discard Common Core

The new law states that the secretary of education “shall not attempt to influence, incentivize, or coerce state adoption of the Common Core State Standards.”

No one is yet sure how many states will keep, revise or reject the standards, but school superintendents are concerned.

“We’ve spent years trying to put these standards into place,” says James Polansky, superintendent of Huntington Public Schools on Long Island in New York. “One of the things the federal government tried to accomplish was to make things somewhat consistent across the country. Now, that’s thrown out the window.”

4. Opportunity for educator input

ESSA allows districts to set aside 3 percent of Title II funds for principal development. It also says educators should be part of state and district committees that develop accountability and spending plans.

“The next round of decisions will happen at the state and local level,” Kusler says. “It’s incumbent upon educators to get involved.”

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