Legislation that would replace many components of 2001’s controversial No Child Left Behind Act handily passed the U.S. Senate last week with both Alaska senators voting in favor of the bill.
No Child Left Behind requires public schools to meet incrementally tougher federal benchmarks based on state-developed standardized testing of students. The goal had been to make 100 percent of the nation’s children “proficient” in all subjects by 2012. Federal funding to school districts is based on these test scores.
The legislation was proposed by former President George W. Bush and sought to narrow achievement gaps between students of different races and socioeconomic classes.
The Every Child Achieves Act would allow more state and local control of standardized testing and the weight it has in determining students’ proficiency and teachers’ and schools’ success, according to a document from the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, was one of the authors of the Every Child Achieves Act as a member of the committee. She gave a floor speech before the vote July 16.
“Whenever Alaskans and I talked about the No Child Left Behind law, it was clear that no one — educators, students, parents, or tribes — was happy,” she said. “The one-size-fits-all mandates, poor tribal consultation, and the lack of state and local control over our children’s education were not working. ... States will again be able to decide what qualifications and skills to demand of teachers and principals, whether to have a statewide evaluation system, and if so, whether those evaluations include growth in student proficiency.”
Murkowski said in her speech that the Every Child Achieves Act puts specific restrictions on the U.S. Secretary of Education and the federal government’s role in state education accountability measures.
“The Every Child Achieves Act prohibits the Secretary from requiring a state to include or delete any element of its state standards from the State Plan, use specific assessment instruments or items, set goals, timelines, weights or significance to any indicators of student proficiency, include or delete from the Plan standards, measures, assessments, student growth, benchmarks or goals of student achievement for school accountability, any aspect of teacher or principal quality, effectiveness, or evaluations systems, or require any data collection beyond current reporting requirements.”
In 2013, Alaska received a waiver from the federal government that allowed it to drop No Child Left Behind rules. The year before, more than half of the state’s schools had been labeled as failing by the federal standards. The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development only expected the state’s scores to go down from there.
“I am pleased that we have been able to remove ourselves from an accountability model that has inaccurately labeled Alaskan schools,” said state education Commissioner Mike Hanley at the time. “In its place we will implement a system that will incorporate data that includes but goes beyond test scores to present a more accurate picture of the health of our schools across the state.”
If it passes through Congress and is signed into law, the Every Child Achieves Act would continue to require two tests in reading and math per child per year in grades three through eight and once in high school, as well as science tests given three times between grades 3 and 12. However, states would be able to determine what the results of those tests mean about their schools rather than leaving it up to interpretation by the federal government, according to the Senate HELP committee. States will be allowed to include other modes of measurement in their accountability systems outside of the standardized tests.
Juneau School District Superintendent Mark Miller said the district supports the legislation and a move away from No Child Left Behind standards.
“As a first blush, (No Child Left Behind) did do some good things, but it was just a first try,” Miller said. “We knew we’d be OK for the first few years and then we’d have to do something different.”
The district will be able to have “more control over teacher staffing and determining which students are succeeding and which ones need intervention,” he said.
“We get to decide how to measure student success, (by) more than just one test,” and which teachers are good enough to be teaching in the district, he said. “Juneau can make decisions for itself.”
Miller said he thinks the act would move the country away from a one-size-fits-all approach to student achievement.
“What may work in Kansas City, Missouri, may not work in Juneau, Alaska, may not work in Bering Strait,” he said.