This change means that as of January 2016 the federal government has returned control over U.S. public education to state and local school districts. We look forward to the possibility of major improvements in Washington State now that we have funding control and can set our own standards again.
Why did No Child Left Behind need replacement?
Since 2001 the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) required all United States public schools receiving federal funding to administer yearly statewide standardized achievement testing in basic skills. States were also required to develop measurable Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) targets for special education students, students with disabilities and students with limited English proficiency.
The overall goal was to have all students at or above the proficient level within 12 years, or by the end of the 2013-2014 school year. Any school that missed its AYP target for four consecutive years would require “corrective actions” such as replacing the entire staff, introducing a new curriculum or extending class time for students. A fifth consecutive year of failure would require complete restructuring, such as closing the school, turning the school into a charter school, having a private company run the school or having the state office of education assume control.
The Act required states to provide “highly qualified” teachers to all students with each state setting the criteria for those standards. Each state was to set and define “one high, challenging standard” for all of its students.
Supporters of NCLB claimed the act resulted in increased accountability required of schools and teachers. Students’ reading and math skills would be assessed yearly in grades 3-8. Students in schools that failed to meet AYP for two consecutive years would be eligible to transfer to higher-performing schools.
Under NCLB schools determined to be under-performing, i.e. not meeting AYP for two years – were required to set aside some federal dollars to offer some students the opportunity to switch to higher performing schools and receive outside tutoring.
Consequences for Washington State Public Education
In 2014 Washington State became the first state to lose its waiver from NCLB because the state legislature refused to allow schools to rate teachers based in part on student test scores. Instead the Legislature decided to let districts choose whether to use the scores.
That decision caused Washington State school districts to lose control over a share of the $40 million in federal funding set aside to cover the costs of students who requested busing to higher-performing schools or sought outside tutoring. As a result over 1,900 of the state’s approx. 2,200 public schools were labeled as failing under the NCLB requirements.
In 2015 over 25% of WA State high school 11th grade students refused (Opted-Out) to take the Smarter Balanced English/language arts exam. It is unclear what will happen in 2016.
What changes can Washington State parents expect from Every Student Succeeds?
This Act returns significant control over public education to the states. It will restore the flexibility Washington and other states had with respect to judging school performance, within some minimum federal rules.
Students will still be required to take yearly standardized reading and math achievement tests in grades 3 – 8 and once during high school, as well as a science test three times within K-12. States will also be required to use students’ test scores on these tests, as well as graduation rates to evaluate schools. One difference is that states can now choose how much weight to place on test scores and decide what other factors to consider. States will now be responsible for improving schools and closing achievement gaps.
The new law will continue federal grants to help states and improve low-performing schools, but school districts will decide how to use those funds. The federal Dept. of Education will continue to monitor and oversee the academic progress of minority, disabled and economically disadvantaged students.