Senate Passes ESEA Reauthorization Legislation

2015-07-16 | , National Association of School Psychologists

The Senate overwhelmingly voted in favor of the Every Child Achieves Act, intended to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind).  There is still much work to do before President Obama can sign this into law and we can roll back some ineffective policies and practices, but this legislation is a step in the right direction.  Below is a summary of some of the major components of ECAA; we'll continue to keep you posted as things progress.

Assessment and Accountability

This was probably the most contentious issue to resolve.  At the heart of the issue is how to hold schools and teachers accountable for meeting the needs of all students while removing the over-emphasis on testing.  The Every Child Achieves Act would enact the following assessment and accountability systems:

  • States must design its own accountability system that includes student test scores, graduation rates, and at least one other indicator to be determined by the state.
  • States have to intervene when schools are identified as low performing based on the accountability system the state designs.
  • Schools must test students every year in grades 3-8 and once in grades 10-12 in reading and math.
    • States are not required to use standardized test scores in teacher evaluation systems

 Many education and civil rights groups wanted stronger language that would require accountability for all students and specific groups of students (e.g. students with disabilities, low-income, minority, and other groups of students). These groups also pushed for specific ‘triggers’ that would specify when a state must intervene in low performing schools or those that had poor graduation rates.  Others pushed for weaker accountability language that would allow states to decide the who, what, and how regarding assessment and accountability. 

This conversation is far from over, the bill still has to go through conference (more on that later) before it is signed into law, and groups are already calling for changes.  For more information, check out this blog from Ed Week.  For more information on what NASP supports, see this blog post from last week.

What does this really mean?

In short, not a lot right now.  The legislation could still change in significant ways as we go forward. However, the Senate Bill and the House Bill each removes the overly punitive “high stakes” accountability system that has resulted in a narrowing of the curriculum and a ‘teach to the test’ mentality.  Additionally, both the House and Senate bill maintain the requirement for states to annually test students in math and reading for grades 3-8, and once in high school (which NASP supports).   There are some people who argue that all assessment requirements should be eliminated, which NASP does not support.  For one, this argument makes the incorrect assumption that  ‘assessment’ and ‘standardized test’ are synonymous. Secondly, the issues and concerns that many have regarding student assessment largely lie with how these assessments are used.  When used appropriately, formative and summative assessments (including standardized tests) provide critical data to help teachers align their instruction with student need, help inform school wide improvement efforts, and allow for the comparison of education reform efforts within and between states.

Availability of Comprehensive Learning Supports

This legislation contains really great policies about school climate, school discipline, school mental health, and other services to meet the needs of the whole child.  Unfortunately, this legislation does not authorize a specific level of investment for these services.  

The Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA) recognizes the critical importance of specialized instructional support personnel, including school psychologists, and comprehensive learning supports in school and student improvement.   ECAA:

  • Contains an explicit definition of ‘school psychologist’
  • Encourages the implementation of multi-tiered systems of support to address student academic achievement and behavior
  • Requires that Title I school-wide programs, and activities intended to improve school safety, school climate, student mental health, physical health and overall well- being be based on the results of a comprehensive needs assessment
  •  Specifically includes school based mental health programs as an effective school-wide program under Title I.
  •  Re-authorizes the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Program
  •  Re-authorizes Project SERV
  •  Authorizes funds to community schools
    • Requires collaboration with school employed mental health professionals and specialized instructional support personnel
    • Ensures that services will supplement, not supplant existing school based supports and personnel.
  • Requires that specialized instructional support personnel be consulted in the development of all plans intended to improve student achievement, behavior, and mental health.
  •  Allows federal professional development funds to be used to provide opportunities for school psychologists, and other specialized instructional support personnel

What’s Next?

The Senate and House leadership will appoint a conference committee to reconcile the differences between HR 5, the Student Success Act and S. 1177, the Every Child Achieves Act.  There are many differences and further compromises will have to be made.  NASP will work to ensure that many of our priorities that are currently in the Every Child Achieves Act are maintained and work to make sure that any final legislation maintains appropriate assessment and accountability systems that remove the over emphasis on high stakes testing, allow for rigorous curriculum and high expectations for all students, and improves access to comprehensive school psychological services and school psychologists.