Every Student Succeeds Act Creates more ‘Flexible’ System State, Local Officials Say

By Shelby Lin Erdman  • January 4, 2015

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The tears, the tantrums, and the family fights. The long evenings spent at the kitchen table studying, or really memorizing classroom material. Atlanta businesswoman and mother of a 16-year-old Roswell High School student, Lori Kenzie, remembers those times very clearly and the stress that accompanied the grueling and rigorous, federally mandated student testing when her daughter was in elementary and junior high school.

“It was awful for the kids,” Kenzie mused during a recent conversation with PBA 30 about the difficulty of the mandated student testing provision under the No Child Left Behind Act.

“The testing just wore them out. I mean they would introduce a new topic on Monday and Friday have a test. That would go on every week, maybe interchanged with a quiz here or there, but it was always a test and then, in addition to that, they had all of the standardized tests,” she explained.

The fact that the federal government, the Department of Education, is not requiring as much testing as was previously required under No Child Left Behind and the fact that they are not requiring states to develop teacher evaluation models that are tied to student achievement scores … gives a whole lot more flexibility to districts and states to have more opportunity to design what will work best for those states without having big brother basically looking over their shoulder,

Like millions of young students in metro Atlanta and across the country, the mandatory standardized testing for students in the 3rd through the 8th grades under No Child Left Behind dominated the lives of children and parents, alike.

“It was just a struggle because you know it’s always preparing for the tests and when the kids learn that way, what I saw was that they’re not really getting a chance to get involved with the topic, whether it be science or social studies, Kenzie said.

“They just had to kind of memorize and prep for the tests and then, afterward, they were on to something new and it didn’t really have time to sink in or build on a topic.”

amgrad_logo.jpg The new Every Student Succeeds Act, which was recently signed into law by President Obama, changes all that. The new education law rolls back the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act along with most of the federally mandated testing, which also impacted teacher reviews and raises. The new law also returns most of the control over schools back to state and local district officials.

Under ESSA, states will now determine student performance targets and school ratings and develop their own identification and intervention methods for the bottom five percent of underperforming schools.

The new law also creates a program to evaluate effective teachers and reward them based on student learning in high need schools and increases access to pre-school education, among other provisions.

School officials in metro Atlanta and in Georgia are sifting through the new provisions created by ESSA to determine the extent of the policy changes and how it will impact local districts. But most officials are pleased with the new law, which passed Congress with bi-partisan support .

“We’re excited that the state can now not worry as much about what the feds want and really listen to districts and work with districts to build an accountability system and an assessment system that’s part of the accountability system that meets the districts’ needs, instead of trying to satisfy federal mandates,” Interim Fulton County Schools Superintendent Ken Zeff told PBA 30.

And the Professional Association of Georgia Educators agreed with Zeff. Communications director Craig Harper believes ESSA will give state and local districts more flexibility to do “what’s best for students.”

“We like the direction that the Every Student Succeeds Act is going,” he said.

“Primarily, the concern in Georgia, right now, has to do with teacher evaluation and student achievement and over testing of students,” Harper explained.

The new law eliminates most of the burden of testing on teachers and students, but still keeps in place an annual standardized test for students in the 3rd through the 8th grades to monitor progress.

“The fact that the federal government, the Department of Education, is not requiring as much testing as was previously required under No Child Left Behind and the fact that they are not requiring states to develop teacher evaluation models that are tied to student achievement scores … gives a whole lot more flexibility to districts and states to have more opportunity to design what will work best for those states without having big brother basically looking over their shoulder,” Harper continued.

The founding principal of the successful charter school Kipp Atlanta Collegiate High School, Dave Howland, believes testing plays a very important role in education and that it’s a necessary tool.

“If you’re only checking on kids once every four years to see kind of where they are, huge gaps can develop, especially during the early development years of grades 3 though 8,” Howland said.

“We do need the annual testing to kind of insure that we have a check on where kids are each year and it’s an important part of the process,” he added.

The U.S. education Department will begin working with states and local districts over the next few weeks to begin implementing the law according to the Obama administration.

Meantime, ESSA comes a little too late to offer any relief from the strict regulations and rigorous testing mandated under No Child Left Behind for Roswell parent Lori Kenzie.

“It won’t affect my child, but I think it’s great and I think that they need to leave the decisions and the curriculum and the testing up to the educators,” she said.

“I think the government officials, you know, that don’t know anything about education, have never been a teacher, they should leave it up to the teachers.”