The U.S. Senate’s committee on education has done a good deed this week by passing the Every Child Achieves Act, a vast improvement over current law. This legislation will end the No Child Left Behind Act, Race to the Top, and federal waivers of NCLB with onerous strings attached. It will dismantle the policies that have left a destructive, divisive climate affecting our schools, students, educators, and communities.
The Every Child Achieves Act moves away from the test-and-punish system that has taken the joy out of teaching and learning. It will help end the overuse of high-stakes tests, punitive sanctions for schools, including school closings, and federal mandates for teacher evaluation. And it maintains the law’s original intent to address educational inequality with targeted funding for children in poverty. Besides maintaining the formula that targets funding for poor children, the bill also expands access to early childhood education.
This rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act also takes a crucial first step toward smarter assessments and accountability. It eliminates the rigid “adequate yearly progress” system and its mandatory sanctions, like replacing staff and closing schools.
The bill maintains annual testing, but it allows assessments to be delivered in the form of portfolios, projects, or extended performance tests. It also allows for the development of a performance assessment system.
Another remarkable provision requires states to audit their testing policies to decrease unnecessary tests, and requires parents to be given full information about testing requirements, including the ability to opt their children out. The Every Child Achieves Act also allows English Language Learners up to three years to take language arts assessments in their native language before taking such tests in English.
The legislation prohibits the federal government from mandating or prescribing teacher evaluations—a complete rejection of current policy being foisted on states by the U.S. Department of Education, which has used waivers of NCLB requirements as the lure. This bipartisan move in the U.S. Senate sets an example the Texas legislature should follow by barring the illegitimate use of students’ scores on standardized tests in teacher evaluation. Action in the full U.S. Senate on the Every Child Achieves Act is expected next month.