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President signs new federal education law

| December 15, 2015

For the first time since 2001, the United States has new federal legislation governing education. 

On Dec. 10, President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), replacing the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The bipartisan bill passed both houses of Congress by wide margins earlier this month. This came after three failed attempts to replace NCLB since it expired in 2007.
According to news reports, the new law serves as a framework – with provisions addressing school accountability, testing, learning standards, and interventions for low-performing schools – and gives states and local school districts greater control and discretion when it comes to the specifics of how these provisions will be implemented.

Transitioning to ESSA will not happen overnight. Starting in the 2017-18 school year, states will be required to have accountability plans for schools. These plans will need to include a number of academic factors (e.g., graduation rates, test scores, English-language proficiency) AND at least one additional factor such as school climate or access to advanced coursework. When reporting on these factors, states will have to break down the results by student subgroups, including different ethnicities, students with special needs, and students with economic disadvantages. In addition, while NCLB set national goals for learning, the new law allows states to set their own goals for things like proficiency on exams, graduation rates and closing achievement gaps.

It is unclear how this new law will impact changes to New York’s education system that are being considered. This fall, the state Education Department sought feedback on the state’s learning standards, and just last week, Governor Cuomo announced the recommendations of his Common Core Task Force, which include overhauling the state’s learning standards and assessments.

Key things to know about the new education law:
• Students will continue to be tested in grades 3-8 in ELA and math and once in high school, and states must continue to break down data based on a set of subgroups.
• States will have more discretion to determine how to weigh tests, whether and how to evaluate teachers, and how to turn around low-performing schools. However, the new law lays out guidelines for state interventions in low-performing schools/districts or schools with low graduation rates.
• Just as under NCLB, the new law doesn’t require states to adopt any specific set of academic standards.
• Schools will still be required to have a 95 percent participation rate for state exams; however, it will be up to the states to decide how this factors into school accountability. In addition, rules or regulations relating to test refusal or “opt-outs” are left to the states.

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