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 re-authorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now called the “Every Student Succeeds Act.” The bill is widely expected to pass the Senate, possibly next week, and early indications are that it will be signed by the president. 

Of most significance to Texas is the fact that the bill, if passed, 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.

Assessment

Annual state tests: ESSA continues the same subject and grade level testing requirements that were required under NCLB, except for changing the grade span for secondary level testing from grades 10-12 to grades 9-12. Accordingly, states receiving Title I funds are required to assess reading/language arts and mathematics every year from grades 3-8, as well as one year in the grade 9-12 span.

Locally-selected, nationally-recognized high school assessments in lieu of state high school assessments: The bill allows school districts to use locally-selected, nationally-recognized high school academic assessments in lieu of the state high school assessments, if approved by the state.

Testing transparency: The bill requires that local school districts provide transparency about testing, including making publicly and widely available, information on each assessment required by the state under ESEA, other assessments required by the state, and where available and feasible to report, assessments required by the local school district including the subject matter assessed, the purpose for which such assessments are designed and used, the source of the requirement for the assessment, the amount of time students will spend taking the assessment, and the schedule for the assessment. 

Local districts are also required to notify parents that they may request, and the district will timely provide, information regarding any state or local district policy regarding student participation in any assessments required by federal or state law or by local district policy, which shall  include a policy, procedure, or parental right to opt the child out of such assessment, where applicable.

Funding for state development/improvement of balanced assessment systems: The bill requires the secretary to make grants to states to use for, among other options, developing or improving balanced assessment systems that include summative, interim and formative assessments, including supporting local educational agencies in developing or improving such assessments, and for evaluating student academic achievement through the development of comprehensive academic assessment instruments (such as performance and technology-based academic assessments, computer adaptive assessments, projects, or extended performance task assessments) that emphasize the mastery of standards and aligned competencies in a competency- based education model.

State/local district option for assessment audits: The bill requires the secretary to make grants to states that so choose, for the state to conduct audits of the state assessment system and for local districts to do the same for local school district assessment systems. If a state receives such a grant, state and local school district audits must include, among other things, the purpose for which the assessment was designed and the purpose for which the assessment is used; and the legal authority for the administration of the assessment. 

The state and local districts must also seek feedback on the system from stakeholders, including information such as the amount of time teachers spend on assessment preparation and administration and the assessments that administrators, teachers, principals, other school leaders, parents and students, if appropriate, do and do not find useful. State and local school district audits must include a plan to improve and streamline the state and local school district assessment systems, including activities such as eliminating any unnecessary assessments. 

In addition to conducting audits of local district assessment systems, the bill allows other uses for local district subgrants, including hiring instructional coaches, or promoting teachers who may receive increased compensation to serve as instructional coaches, to support teachers in the development of classroom-based assessments, interpreting assessment data and designing instruction.

Innovative assessment systems: The bill allows the secretary to provide a state educational agency, or a consortium of state educational agencies, with the authority, for up to five years, to establish an innovative assessment system that may include competency-based assessments, instructionally embedded assessments, interim assessments, cumulative year-end assessments, or performance-based assessments that combine into an annual summative determination for a student, which may be administered through computer adaptive assessments.

State applications must include, among other things, a description of how the state will gather data, solicit regular feedback from teachers, principals, other school leaders, and parents, about their satisfaction with the system, assess the results of each year of the program, and respond by making needed changes to the innovative assessment system. 

Approved states can use the result of the innovation assessment system in lieu of or in addition to ESEA-required assessments in state accountability systems. 

If, upon completion of its demonstration period, a state can show that it has scaled the innovative assessment system up to statewide use, and demonstrated that such system is of high quality, the state shall be permitted to operate the innovative assessment system for purposes of ESEA-required testing and accountability.

Accountability

Although the bill eliminates federal adequate yearly progress (AYP) requirements after Aug. 1, 2016, it requires state accountability systems to include student performance on state tests and high school graduation rates, but gives states 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).

School Improvement

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 5 percent of all schools receiving Title I funds, all public high schools failing to graduate one third or more of their students; and schools identified for additional targeted support that don’t make sufficient progress within a state-determined number of years for comprehensive support and improvement. The bill requires local school districts with schools identified for comprehensive support and improvement, to, in partnership with stakeholders (including principals and other school leaders, teachers, and parents), locally develop and implement a comprehensive support and improvement plan for the school to improve student outcomes, which must be approved by the local school board and the state education agency.

Instead of requiring that school districts spend 20 percent of their Title I funds on tutoring for students at low performing schools, the bill provides that states can reserve 7 percent of their Title I funds to provide school improvement subgrants to local districts, which can then use the funds to provide for initiatives like enrollment and participation in academic courses not otherwise available at a student’s school, including advanced courses, AP and IB courses, and career and technical education coursework, credit recovery, personalized learning, including high-quality tutoring, and transportation costs for students in such schools to transfer to a better school (if a local district offers this option – unless state law requires it).

Highly Qualified

Rather than require that all teachers of core academic subjects be “highly qualified,” the bill simply requires that state-submitted Title I plans requiring approval by the U.S. Secretary of Education, contain assurances regarding how the state will ensure that all teachers and paraprofessionals working in schools receiving Title I funds meet applicable state certification and licensure requirements, and a description of how low-income and minority children enrolled in these schools are not served at disproportionate rates by ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers. The bill also requires local districts to notify parents of whether their child’s teacher has met state qualifications and licensing criteria for the grade levels and subject areas in which the teacher provides instruction, is teaching under emergency or other provisional credentials, is teaching in the field of discipline of the certification of the teacher and whether the child is provided services by paraprofessionals and, if so, their qualifications.

Student discipline

In both state and local Title I plans, the bill requires information regarding how the state will support, and local districts will improve, school conditions for student learning, including through reducing incidences of bullying and harassment, the use of aversive behavioral interventions that compromise student health and safety and the overuse of discipline practices that remove students from the classroom, which may include identifying and supporting schools with high rates of discipline, disaggregated by student subgroups.

State academic achievement standards

Instead of requiring states to establish college- and career-ready standards, the bill requires that each state establish challenging state academic standards that are aligned with entrance requirements for credit-bearing coursework in the system of public higher education in the state and relevant career and technical education standards. The bill prohibits the secretary mandating, directing, controlling, coercing, or exercising any direction or supervision over any of the challenging state academic standards adopted or implemented by a state.

Reporting requirements

The bill requires states to submit annual report cards including measures of school quality, climate, and safety, including rates of in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, school-related arrests, referrals to law enforcement, chronic absenteeism (including both excused and unexcused absences), incidences of violence, including bullying and harassment; and the professional qualifications of teachers in the state, the number and percentage of inexperienced teachers, principals, and other school leaders; teachers teaching with emergency or provisional credentials; and teachers who are not teaching in the subject or field for which the teacher is certified or licensed.

TCTA is still working through the 1000+ page bill, and we will continue to provide information to our members as it becomes available.