By Nicole Hennessy
After the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) co-authored by President George W. Bush was signed into law in 2002, educators immediately raised questions and concerns. They have continued to be raised ever since.
The new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), recently signed into law by President Barack Obama, repeals much of NCLB.
Some who have questioned the legislation for more than a decade are breathing a sigh of relief, but what this really means for local districts like Avon and Avon Lake, is still up in the air.
One of the most expansive education reform efforts in U.S. history, NCLB drastically increased the role of the federal government in overseeing the quality of public education, holding schools accountable for students’ progress and increasing the number of standardized tests.
Throughout the years, the debate over the testing and accountability provisions has continued to bring up questions regarding how the mandates would be funded, how test results would be reported and interpreted, how schools would be held accountable and how much power should remain with the states.
While ESSA gives control over standards, testing, curriculum and more back to state departments of education, new challenges may come in the form of the potential for state departments of education to become more stringent over districts. However, there are many anticipated yet still unclear benefits to ESSA, such as fewer tests and less scrutiny of teachers, giving them more time to focus on teaching subject matter beyond what is going to be on standardized tests.
The new ESSA mandates, paired with the elimination of the controversial Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests in Ohio schools, is a victory for those who have been fighting against increased testing and federal oversight.
Though, Jackie Conrad, an Avon resident, third-grade Sandusky City Schools teacher and active member of the Badass Teachers Association, which fights for fairer policies concerning public schools, says all these changes add up to more of the same challenges.
“If I had one word to describe it,” she said of her perception of the new ESSA mandates, “it would be weary.”
Listing challenges like a continued focus on funding charter schools with levied or state dollars, she also stated that, while it is a big talking point surrounding ESSA, she is not convinced testing will decrease very much under the new mandates, especially in terms of districts giving practice tests throughout the year to prepare students.
Avon Lake City Schools Superintendent Bob Scott said that while there will still be yearly testing in English and math, even in regard to these tests there will be a lot more control over that at the state level.
“We don’t mind the accountability,” he said of standards and testing. “We just want it to be useful and age-appropriate.”
He said that while more could still be done, “we’re hopeful. We’re hoping we can get back the function of what testing actually is − to help kids, help teachers, help schools get better.”
Scott explained that while a lot of the mandates in No Child Left Behind were well-intentioned, educators knew all along that they were either unrealistic or they didn’t work.
ESSA, he said, is a move in the right direction.
“And now it’s important that the state and the local districts − whether it’s teachers, superintendents, school boards − work together to make sure we move in a positive direction in the future.”