No Child Left Behind, the Bush-approved law from 2002 that put all public schools under federal scrutiny, expired in 2007. But so long as nothing has replaced it, schools were still required to abide by its mandates.
The purpose of NCBH was to measure school performance by a single standard, using regular standardized testing of students. This testing was the root of much of the criticism of the former law – there was no allowance made for varied abilities among students, and most states did not provide a non-English version of the test. The coveted 100% scores were all but impossible, and penalties for failing grades were high. And expensive.
Striving to pass, teachers’ lesson plans frequently focused on only what was relevant to the test, instead of trying to instill a broad understanding in their students. About 71% of schools reduced time spent on subjects not covered by the test, including history, language, science, and all of the arts.
Now a new alternative is on the table. The Every Child Succeeds Act (ECSA) was unanimously approved by the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee in the Senate on April 16th. The bill was proposed by the bipartisan team-up of Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) and Patty Murray (D-Wash) and garnered three days on the floor and more than two dozen amendments.
ECSA will still mandate standardized testing, but the federal government will no longer be able to impose expensive sanctions on schools not meeting their goals. States would be allowed to use those scores as they see fit to create their own standards of accountability and could use many other measures of school performance to give the public a more detailed and accurate assessment of any given school.
The new bill, should it pass, won’t get our students out of the interminable cycle of tests, but it will protect already under-funded schools from being driven into closure by sanctions. And it will, hopefully, pull teachers back from the trend of “teaching to the test” en mass and neglecting all else.