ESSA—A new beginning?

There is a lot of action over at ED lately, with ESSA likely being the longest-awaited of the current changes. While there are always pluses and minuses in legislation, many of which are not discovered for months or even years, Metiri sees a few aspects of ESSA that look promising:

Additional flexibility in testing: Many educators, parents, and students believe the testing has gotten out of hand (as evidenced by the growing opt out movement), to the point that it is taking away from instructional time. The new law still requires annual testing grades 3 through 8, and once in high school, but allows more flexibility in terms of how and when. It also places an emphasis on finding assessments that accurately measure student learning, a move we hope will encourage educators to create and demand assessments that are well-aligned with curriculum and instruction. It also has a requirement to include other indicators of success, such as student engagement, which we feel has the potential to create a more complete picture of both teaching and learning (though some have expressed concerns these measures could be misused, certainly a valid concern).

Additional flexibility in selecting interventions: ESSA specifically states which schools in every state will require additional interventions, but does not specify what these interventions must be. While it remains to be seen how states address this issue, we hope this will increase the number of research-based interventions implemented in schools, and increase the role of educators in selecting them.

Reassessing teacher evaluation: While this was a policy of the most recent administration and not originally in NCLB, tying teacher evaluations to student test scores has been both difficult for states to implement and extremely controversial. Educators and researchers disagree on whether student test scores should be used as a component of teacher evaluations, though most seem to agree there should be many factors included in any assessment of teachers’ effectiveness. Removing this requirement will hopefully allow states to consider their current systems and take the time to ensure their evaluation processes are research-based, provide an accurate representation of teachers’ abilities, and include actionable feedback for educators to help them grow as professionals.

In summary, right now we’re cautiously optimistic. As ESSA rolls out, we will continue to research the legislation itself and the translation of the law in states and schools.