Every Student Succeeds Act 

Replaces No Child Left Behind Act

After nearly eight years of stalemate, Congress approved and the President signed a new federal education law called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in late 2015 to replace the No Child Left Behind act.

The new law does nothing to change the broadest brushes of No Child Left Behind, the legislation that gave the federal government unprecedented sway over the nation’s schools. The Every Student Succeeds Act shifts, for the first time since the Reagan years, the balance of power in education away from Washington and back to the states. States, including Oregon, will have the power to make their own decisions about how exactly to grade schools, evaluate teachers and help low-performing schools. 

Students still will be required to take yearly tests in reading and math in nearly every grade. And, based primarily on those test results, states still will have to determine which schools are the poorest performers and take action to get those schools to do better. Results must be broken out separately for low-income, minority and special education students, and schools that do poorly with those groups must get extra scrutiny, even if their overall test scores look OK. 

The New York Times reported that “Civil rights groups have been tepid in their support for the legislation because they fear that some states will revert to the neglect of minority students that drove Congress to pass No Child Left Behind. They have history on their side: “Leave it to the states” was disastrous for minority students. Will this time be different? The new law maintains the old requirement that test scores be made public and that those results be disaggregated. As a result, we’ll know where the most vulnerable students are. There will be still be fights over accountability, but those will be at the state level, and advocates will need to keep up the pressure for equity.”

More About The Act

While states are still required to test students annually in reading and math from third to eighth grade, and at least once in high school, they have a freer hand in designing those tests. What’s more, those standardized tests count for less in evaluating schools. At least one other measure of academic improvement, like graduation rates and, for nonnative speakers, proficiency in English, must be included. And a student performance measure, like grit or school climate, has to be part of the evaluation equation. This multipronged approach should make it easier for educators to replace some drill-and-kill memorization with more hands-on learning and critical thinking.

Addressing Dropouts

An important change for Oregon under the new legislation: State education officials will have to put a big focus on helping high schools with terrible graduation rates. The dropout provision was added to the new version of the law partly at the behest of Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, who expressed alarm at the state’s persistently bottom-of-the-barrel graduation rates.

ESSA requires states to intervene in any U.S. high school where less than 68 percent of students graduate in four years. In Oregon, with the nation’s fourth-worst graduation rate, that’s a lot of schools. Roughly 100 Oregon high schools, or more than one of every four, are expected to be identified as needing that help. That will mark a huge change from the current federal accountability system, which mandates state intervention only in schools that receive federal Title I money, intended to help disadvantaged students. Few Oregon school boards vote to give those funds to any of their high schools.

Teacher Evaluation

The new law also could bring changes to the way Oregon teachers are evaluated. That decision rests with the Oregon Board of Education. Beginning with the 2013-2014 school year, the state has required that teachers receive detailed feedback on a scale of 1 to 4 on a range of skills proven to be related to improved student outcomes. A method widely used in previous years rated teachers as satisfactory or not on a checklist of skills, and more than 99 percent of them were found satisfactory every year.

Starting in the 2015-2016 school year, how much improvement a teacher’s students show on schoolwide, districtwide or standardized tests also is a factor in his or her evaluation.  Will Oregon’s new method of evaluating teachers and principals be better than in the past? Maybe because the teachers union was included in and worked hard on the new approach. If it is changed, it should be tweaked, not tossed out.

What might change, however, is how student learning growth is factored into teacher evaluations. To receive a waiver from the most onerous provisions of the No Child Left Behind law, Oregon had to agree to define student learning growth in the manner dictated by the U.S. Department of Education. Specifically, it had to use standardized test scores and, for any teacher who teaches English or math in grades four through eight or to high school juniors, those scores had to come from Smarter Balanced tests, which measure students’ mastery of the Common Core State Standards. With passage of the new law, that mandate goes away on July 31, 2016.

The state Board of Education could rewrite state rules to allow teachers’ impact on student learning to be measured in ways other than Smarter Balanced test scores. The state hopes to finalize its decision before the end of the 2015-2016 school year, so that teachers and schools will know how teachers will be evaluated during 2016-17.

Rating School Performance

The state also needs to decide how it will change it system for rating school performance, but it has more time to do so. The new approach will first be used in 2017-18. The new performance rankings for schools still will be based primarily on students’ year-to-year gains on Smarter Balanced tests, plus how many student reach proficiency levels on those tests and how many students graduate on time.

But, starting in 2018, schools will have to be graded on at least one additional factor, generally one that indicates how much opportunity a school provides rather than how high students score on tests.

The state education department plans to ask Oregonians broadly, with particular emphasis on hearing from educators, parents and employers, what they most value in a great school.

Waivers

In a win for civil rights groups, the performance of each subgroup of students would have to be measured separately, meaning states could no longer rely solely on so-called supersubgroups. That’s a statistical technique in the waivers that allowed states to combine different categories of students for accountability purposes.

The bill would combine some 50 programs, some of which haven’t been funded in years, into a big giant block grant.

Source:  ‘As Congress kills No Child Left Behind law, what’s ahead for Oregon schools?” by Betsy Hammond, OregonLive/The Oregonian published December 10, 2015. 

More Information About ESSA

Education Week analysis called ESEA Reauthorization: The Every Student Succeeds Act Explained.

The Oregonian Website That Display Results

The Oregonian/OregonLive website has a interactive graphic that displays the rating on all Oregon public schools that were rated under the No Child Left Behind Act. Another is the “Model Schools” which you can view at The Oregonian/OregonLive website by clicking Model School List

ESSA Ratings vs. Oregon State Report Cards

The annual Oregon school report cards differ from the ESSA ratings.  The state judges schools on average student performances, while the federal rating scrutinize individual groups such as limited English, minority, low-income, and special education students.  If one of those groups fails to make adequate progress, the entire school is downgraded. 

The Oregon report card is strictly informational.  It measures schools on averages in reading, math, science, and writing.  Both the Oregon report card and the ESSA federal ratings factor in attendance and the number of students taking the test.

Each State Has Their Own Measurements

Each state has developed and implemented measurements for determining whether its schools are making adequate yearly progress (AYP).  AYP is an individual state’s measure of progress toward the goal of students achieving to state academic standards in at least reading/language arts and math.  The criticism is that each state has their own measurements so it is impossible to compare states.  Just look at the number of students who score at a “meet expectations” level on Oregon 10th grade OAS test of math and reading. Based on where Oregon has set its standards for student achievement, a “meets expectations” score is not particularly high.

Oregon needs to raise expectations for all students and a first step was adopting the National Common Core Standards which they did in 2010. Oregon is also a member of Achieve which is an independent, bipartisan, non-profit education reform organization that helps states raise academic standards and graduation requirements, improve assessments and strengthen accountability.