A law passed in December will allow the state to have a bigger say on education mandates, and help reduce the number of standardized tests students take.
The Every Student Succeeds Act will be put into effect in the 2016-17 school year.
The remainder of this school year is a transition period, National Education Association’s Corey Williams, of Iowa, said.
And some local educators think it’s a step forward.
State College Area School District Superintendent Bob O’Donnell said less could be more.
“We have a much better understanding of the engagement we’ll have with our state Department of Education, and these changes,” O’Donnell said. “In particular, it will be interesting to see how our state interprets the assessment parameters and how much control and flexibility lays into that, especially at the high school level. For us, I hope that would allow us to engage in our community and say, ‘hey, what assessments will allow us to monitor how our students are doing with their own development as a learner? And can those types of assessments jive with future opportunities kids and families are receiving?’”
At a conference Thursday morning at the Ramada Inn Hotel and Conference Center, Williams; U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township; and Joe Bard, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, addressed educators and board members from school districts in Centre, Clearfield, Clinton and Huntingdon counties.
The mission, Thompson said, was to educate them about the ESSA, which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act.
Thompson said the new law includes changes to federal policy governing elementary and secondary schools in the country, specifically federal funding flexibility for districts, and putting decision-making in the hands of the state, district administration, teachers, students and parents.
There’s a local component. This is almost putting decisions in the hands of people who directly run our schools, and we need to put trust in people who are educating our children.
U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township
“There’s a local component,” Thompson said. “This is almost putting decisions in the hands of people who directly run our schools, and we need to put trust in people who are educating our children.”
Williams outlined changes between the two laws that include a state-developed accountability system, the opportunity for teachers to make more teaching and learning decisions, and the chance for increased parent and educator involvement in school districts.
No Child Left Behind was signed into law in 2002 and expired in 2007.
Williams said it focused on standardized tests used for teacher and school district evaluations, and supported a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
Since then, Congress made four attempts at replacing the former law in 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2015.
ESSA was passed last year by the House in a 359 to 64 vote, and by the Senate in an 85 to 12 vote.
The accountability system within ESSA will now be based on assessments, graduation rates, English language proficiency and other state indicators, instead of solely on standardized test scores. The new law will additionally decrease the number of standardized tests students take through their school career to 15 or 16, Williams said.
That’s down from 17 standardized tests, Williams said.
This doesn’t seem like a lot, but we’re paving the way for reduction.
Corey Williams, National Education Association
“This doesn’t seem like a lot, but we’re paving the way for reduction,” she said.
The decrease in tests would come by omitting duplicate tests from a student’s curriculum.
“This is no doubt a small step in the process, but it’s a good step,” O’Donnell said. “It will be interesting to see how the state approaches this because we’ve had so much change, and the amount of time kids are tested is a great concern. We’ll look at the types of tests and see what values they give students, teachers and families to help us do a little better.”
But a test doesn’t tell the whole story about the student, O’Donnell said.
“Testing aligns with the expectations toward a kid’s development, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle to child development,” O’Donnell said. “We have to look at how might we better be able to utilize those assessments?”
Under the new law, students are also given the opportunity to opt out of taking exams, Williams said.
However if a district has less than a 95 percent participation rate, funding could be reduced.
In this case, funding eligibility will be determined by the state instead of the federal government.
But concerns fall with state assessment tests aimed at improving student growth.
“How might we improve the focus of the test and flexibility with evident learning disabilities, and turn around on that information?” O’Donnell said.
Currently, O’Donnell said, “it’s not a process that allows teachers to get feedback while they still have those kids.”
The ESSA will be in place for four years, and at the end of the term will be reassessed, Williams said.