Every Student Succeeds Act becomes law

President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act into law on Dec. 10, following approval of the massive overhaul of federal education policy by the House and Senate. The new law retains annual testing requirements but returns to states and districts many decisions about how those test results are used.

“The ESSA continues the destructive demand for standardized testing throughout a student’s school experience and thus is a real disappointment,” said MTA President Barbara Madeloni. “Our hope, however, is that the movement from federal to state control will allow us to intensify our organizing efforts to pass a three-year moratorium on high-stakes testing in Massachusetts.”

“There are literally hundreds of provisions in this new law that we and education policymakers will have to address.”

— MTA President Barbara Madeloni

The new law is a rewrite of the much-reviled No Child Left Behind act. Once implemented, it will eliminate many of the mandates contained in NCLB and in the NCLB waivers that Massachusetts and most other states were granted.

Weighing in at more than 1,000 pages, the ESSA addresses every aspect of federal involvement in preK-12 education, including teacher preparation, funding for low-income students, special education and testing and accountability. The implications of many specific provisions will not be clear until after regulations are issued.

Some of the key features affecting testing and accountability in Massachusetts are as follows:

  • The federal government will continue to require that every student be tested in mathematics and English language arts in grades three to eight and once in high school.
  • Seven states will be allowed to apply for waivers from that testing requirement so that they are able to experiment with alternative assessment strategies.
  • The federal government will no longer require specific interventions in schools deemed to be “underperforming.”
  • The state’s accountability system must include at least one measure of student success and support beyond test scores, a provision strongly advocated for by the National Education Association.
  • The federal government may not mandate that state or local test scores be used in the educator evaluation system. This clears the way for MTA members and others to oppose use of Student Growth Percentiles or District-Determined Measures in the educator evaluation system, a mandate widely viewed as unworkable, invalid and destructive.

“There are literally hundreds of provisions in this new law that we and education policymakers will have to address,” Madeloni said. “And there are hints of some provisions that might further the incursion of private for-profit interests into public education.

“In passing this law, Congress is acknowledging the failure of the top-down education mandates that the federal government has forced on states and districts for the past 15 years,” Madeloni added. “Now we need to stop the same reckless mandates at the state level. We need to reclaim our schools and focus on how we inspire students to be compassionate, intelligent and creative human beings.”