ESEA Matters to Your Practice
Policy changes enacted in the last 15 years have dramatically shaped the context in which school psychologists practice. Perhaps some of the most significant changes arose from the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2002; the 2004 reauthorization to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act; significant financial investment for states awarded Race to the Top grants; the introduction of the Common Core State Standards; and the ESEA state waivers which released states from the punitive consequences mandated by NCLB in exchange for implementation of specific reform efforts (primarily teacher evaluation systems based on student performance). To be sure, it is not just policy that impacts our practice. As school psychologists, we strive to make sure all services we provide are guided by research, and we seek to discontinue policies and practices deemed harmful or ineffective and promote those that further improve school and student outcomes. There is no doubt the next reauthorization of ESEA will, for better or for worse, impact the role of the school psychologist and the systems in which we practice.
For the sake if illustration, let’s do exactly what school psychologists try to avoid, and make blanket generalizations about how No Child Left Behind and the ESEA Waivers have negatively impacted the current context of schools and our daily practice.
- The over-emphasis on test scores as a primary indicator of school success has resulted in a narrowing of the curriculum, and, in some cases, resulted in states creating lower standards so that more students would be considered “proficient.”
- Focus on students who could pass a test resulted in fewer enrichment opportunities for high achieving students and fewer remediation opportunities for students with significant academic need.
- Teacher tenure and teacher pay were tied to student test scores, placing uncessary stress on teachers, and their students.
- Time devoted to PE, art, music, social studies, or anything that was not test decreaed or was eliminated all together.
- Resources, including personnel, dedicated to school-wide initiatives to improve school climate, school safety, bullying, student behavioral and mental health (to name a few) were significantly cut due to increased costs associated with assessment and accountability mandates.
- Reallocation of resources limited schools' ability to provide comprehensive prevention, early identification, and early intervention services for all students.
Despite the challenges associated with meeting NCLB mandates, there are countless examples of how individual schools and districts prioritized the availability of comprehensive learning supports as part of their school improvement efforts. School psychologists have been on the front lines helping schools and districts improve school climate; create and implement effective discipline policies; improve school safety and crisis response; implement multi-tiered systems of support that address the academic, social-emotional, behavioral, and mental health needs of students. You can't ignore the incredibly positive outcomes that come when schools consider rigorous curriculum, effective leadership, and comprehensive learning supports as equally important, and policymakers are catching on.
Current proposals to reauthorize NCLB would get rid of the punitive and narrowly focused testing focused policies and encourages the use of multiple sources of data, including measures of school quality, as evidence of school success. National education policy is encouraging schools to take a multi-faceted approach to school improvement and moves us away from a one-size fits all approach to one that is responsive to the needs of the individual school and community.
Of course, it would be foolish to think that the passage of this one law is the soultion to all problems facing our students and our schools. However, it is clear that our practice has begun to influence policy and we are well positioned to advance the comprehensive role of school psycholgists in meeting the academic, behavioral, social-emotional, and mental health needs of students.