Today, with bipartisan support, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaces the No Child Left Behind Act by handing more power to state and local officials over school testing and underachieving schools, with the U.S. Department of Education seeing its role in hands-on accountability considerably diminished.
The No Child Left Behind Act has been on the books since 2002 as an attempted antidote to the poor academic skills of American students. Because of the strong bipartisan desire to improve the country’s educational system, back then, the No Child Left Behind Act won the overwhelming support of Democrat and Republican lawmakers. According to President George W. Bush, the law was intended to end the “soft bigotry of low expectations” by closing the achievement gaps for disadvantaged students, including those in special education. The law decreed that by 2014, 100 percent of students would perform at grade level in the academic areas assessed.
Instead of seeing this anticipated improvement in our public education system, things have gotten much worse by every measure. SAT scores have declined for American students as have their academic test scores as compared to their counterparts in other countries.
Along with mandating annual testing for reading and math, the No Child Left Behind Act included strong punitive measures. Schools that failed to make adequate yearly progress faced sanctions, including possible reorganization and closure. As a result, teachers were pressured to improve test results by teaching narrowly to the math and reading tests. And time spent during the school day on science, history, athletics, art, and music was greatly reduced and sometimes went by the wayside in the nation’s schools. In addition, in an effort to declare more students “proficient” in math and reading, proficiency standards were frequently watered down so as to lose their relevance.
The Every Student Succeeds Act doesn’t entirely do away with interventions for low-performing schools, but it redefines the criteria determining which schools require intervention while shifting the lion’s share of oversight to the states.
States will be required to develop evidence-based solutions for the bottom 5 percent of schools, schools that fail to graduate two-thirds of students and schools that fail to show progress among certain student populations — such as students of color, students with disabilities, students speaking English as a second language and low-income students.
In reality, many schools no longer adhere to the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. Forty-two states and the District of Columbia already have waivers from the No Child Left Behind's most troublesom and restrictive requirements--waivers which were granted by the Obama administration several years ago. This means that most of the country's students have already been learning under an educational system that looks a lot like the system envisioned in the Every Student Succeeds Act.
One significant change under the new law is that previously, an unlimited number of children with disabilities could take less rigorous alternative exams to mandated standardized tests. Now, no more than one percent of students, those with the most significant cognitive impairments, will be allowed to take the alternative tests. And the law prohibits states from preventing these students from continuing to work toward achieving grade level standards.
Additionally, the law requires states to work toward reducing the incidences of bullying and harassment as well as the incidences of the use of aversive behavioral interventions, such as restraints and seclusions, and other disciplinary removal from the classroom.
It was a good day.
Martha Millar is a special education attorney who serves clients throughout California.
You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her today for a free telephone consultation at 916-724-5211.
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