In what many would have considered impossible after eight years of delay, the U.S. House of Representatives took an historic vote on Dec. 2, 2015, to approve, 359-64, a reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now called the “Every Student Succeeds Act.” On Dec. 9, the Senate also approved the bill, 85-12, and President Barack Obama signed it into law on Dec. 10. 

Of most significance to Texas is the fact that the bill will remove a looming requirement to establish a test-based teacher evaluation system under the state’s current ESEA waiver. The U.S. Department of Education recently put Texas’s waiver on high-risk status, with potential loss of the waiver starting with the 2016-17 school year, due to Texas’s failure to assure USDE that it would implement such a system. The bill passed by the House specifically provides that USDE has no authority to require states to implement any kind of teacher evaluation system, and that all waivers have no legal effect on or after Aug. 1, 2016. (However, the current plan is for Texas to continue to move forward with TTESS, the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System that potentially requires school districts using the system to count student performance as 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation).

Additionally, the bill returns much of the authority over education to states and local school districts, while retaining federal authority in some key areas.

Among the highlights of the bill:

  • Federal adequate yearly progress (AYP) requirements are eliminated after Aug. 1, 2016. State accountability systems must include student performance on state tests and high school graduation rates as part of states’ Title I plans; however states have the ability to determine the weight of, and set their own long-term goals for, these indicators in addition to other indicators of school quality or student success (which can include measures of educator engagement and school climate/safety).
  • The current “highly qualified” requirements for teachers are eliminated. Instead, states will have to ensure that all teachers and paraprofessionals in schools receiving Title I funds will meet applicable state certification requirements, and that low-income/minority students in these schools will not be served disproportionately by ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers.
  • Current requirements for annual testing will continue, along with the mandated 95 percent student participation in testing, but states will have more flexibility to determine what kind of testing will be used, and what weight it will carry, in their accountability systems.
  • Local districts, with state approval, could choose to use nationally recognized tests (such as the SAT/ACT) instead of currently required state high school level exams.
  • Parents can request, and the district must provide, information regarding state or local policies on student participation in required testing. The information must include opt-out policies, where applicable.
  • States can apply for grants to conduct audits of state and local district assessment systems, in which they must seek feedback on the systems from stakeholders, including how much time teachers spend on assessment preparation and administration, and the assessments that teacher and parents do and don’t find useful. The audit must include a plan for streamlining assessment systems, including activities such as eliminating any unnecessary assessments.
  • Instead of requiring states to establish college-and career-ready standards, the bill requires that each state establish challenging academic standards aligned with entrance requirements for credit-bearing college coursework and relevant state career and technical education standards. The bill prohibits federal control over these standards.
  • States can also apply for grants to establish innovative assessment systems. Upon providing evidence that the system is high-quality and scaled up to statewide use, states must be allowed to use the innovative system to meet federal testing and accountability requirements.
  • Instead of mandating a required set of prescriptive interventions for low-performing schools, the bill requires states, beginning in 2017-18, to identify the lowest five percent of all schools receiving Title I funds, all public high schools failing to graduate one third or more of their students, and schools with subgroups of struggling students for comprehensive support and improvement. The local district, in partnership with teachers, parents, and school leaders, determines the plan for comprehensive support and improvement, which must be approved by the local school board and state.

Although annual testing requirements are maintained, and the bill continues the Obama administration’s push toward expanding the role of charter schools, the ESEA reauthorization legislation represents a significant step forward in addressing the most harmful aspects of the current system.

TCTA is still working through the 1000+ page bill, but more details are available here and here.