U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) has voted to pass S.1177, the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and overhaul the country’s current K-12 education law known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The bill passed the senate by a vote of 81 to 17.
Under NCLB, accountability was centered on test scores, which pressured schools, teachers, and students to focus more on testing than instruction. NCLB set a high bar for student achievement, but never followed through with the resources and support necessary to achieve those goals. When schools failed, it mandated a one-size-fits-all approach for struggling schools that ignored the unique needs of local communities.
“The proliferation of high-stakes standardized testing has left our students with too little instruction time and has been devastating to teacher morale. The legislation passed today eliminates the one-size-fits-all provisions of No Child Left Behind and instead allows states, parents, and teachers to work together to develop local accountability systems based on the needs of their communities and ensure that schools are held accountable by multiple measures of success, not just an annual exam,” said Sen. Heinrich. “I am proud that many of the priorities important to New Mexicans are included in the bill, including programs for English learners and Native students, and making priority investments in preschool instruction and science, technology, engineering, and math. One of the founding tenants of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is ensuring equal education no matter your school district or zip code. And I believe this bipartisan bill embodies that principle. Investments in our youth will yield tremendous dividends both inside and outside the classroom and prepare our students for a 21st century economy that requires 21st century skill sets.”
To ensure that state assessments and accountability plans are developed with parent, educator and stakeholder input, Senator Heinrich included a provision to require state accountability plans to have a comment period. During a 30-day public comment period, every New Mexican would have an opportunity to view and weigh in on the state’s education plan prior to submission to the U.S. Department of Education for approval. In addition, states must provide assurances that those comments were taken into account in the development of the state plan.
Senator Heinrich also included provisions in the ECAA to strengthen programs for English learners by allowing teachers and advocates to better measure what happens to English learners after they no longer need language acquisition assistance. Senator Heinrich’s provision provides four years of data so their academic success can continue to be monitored after students test proficient in English. There are currently more than 50,000 students in New Mexico participating in programs for English learners.
Senator Heinrich also supported the following ECAA provisions:
Programs for Native American Students — improves education in tribal communities by creating a new grant initiative to establish or expand Native language immersion programs under the U.S. Department of Education and includes provisions requiring every state to consult with tribes in the development of their Title I state education plans. School districts that serve Native American students will need to consult with tribes in the development of plans for many federal education programs. The bill also includes a new program to build the capacity of tribal educational agencies to manage and design federal education programs.
Support Making Assessments Reliable and Timely (SMART) Act — allows participating states to audit their testing systems to reduce redundancies in testing and increase instruction time. It also eliminates unnecessary assessments, design more sensible systems that align with standards. State-and district-required assessments take up most of a student’s testing time. Often, these tests are reported to be redundant, of low quality, and unnecessary.
Multiple Measures of Success — allows states to include other measures of student and school performances in their accountability systems in order to provide teachers, parents, and other stakeholders with a more accurate determination of school performance. States will also be required to include graduation rates, one measure of postsecondary education or workforce readiness, and English proficiency for English learners in their accountability systems.
Early Childhood Education — expands access to high-quality early childhood education through Preschool Development Grants, which allow states to improve early childhood education coordination, quality, and access. Early-learning programs can strengthen a child’s foundation enabling them to start their K-12 education on a strong footing.
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Achievement — authorizes formula grants to improve classroom instruction, enhance student engagement, and increase student achievement in STEM subjects. In addition to improving classroom instruction, these grants can also be used to increasing student access to high-quality afterschool programs that partner with professionals and researchers in STEM fields.
21st Century Community Learning Centers — supports afterschool and extended learning opportunities for low-income students. 21st Century Community Learning Centers offer students a broad array of enrichment activities that can complement their regular academic programs.
Redesign Teacher Evaluations — allows, but not requires, states and school districts to design their own teacher evaluation systems, if they wish to do so. Much of the pressure around high-stakes testing has centered on the requirement that teacher evaluation systems be based in part on student test scores as a condition for a state receiving a NCLB waiver. ECAA has no such requirement for teacher evaluation systems. If states would like to use federal funding to design teacher evaluation systems, these systems must be based on multiple measures beyond test scores – reducing the pressure on one high-stakes test as a measure of teacher quality.