Senate ESEA bill advances with ‘wins’ for competency, school improvement and accountability

KnowledgeWorks commends Senate HELP Committee on the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015

Topics: Education Policy

States and districts will face fewer policy barriers in building and supporting personalized learning systems if the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, a bipartisan bill authored by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), is signed into law.

This week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee marked up and approved the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, the most recent proposal to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The bill marks a significant step forward in the reauthorization process by maintaining a strong commitment to accountability, school improvement, and innovation through the establishment of a new, competency-based state assessment pilot program– all endorsed strongly by KnowledgeWorks.

“The progress made this week is exciting for everyone who is working to build next generation education systems while trapped beneath outdated federal requirements,” KnowledgeWorks Vice President of Policy and Advocacy Lillian Pace said. “While there is still work to do as the current reiteration of ESEA moves to the Senate floor, we are moving in the right direction to balance accountability with greater flexibility for school improvement and redesign.”

Specifically, the bill introduces a new innovative assessment pilot program that would help states advance personalized, competency-based systems. This groundbreaking pilot, which KnowledgeWorks advocated for, would enable five states, or a consortium of states, to submit a proposal for an alternative assessment system to the U.S. Department of Education for approval. Once approved, a state would begin to implement its new assessment system either statewide or with an initial group of districts. The state would also be allowed to incorporate that performance data into its accountability system if it wishes.

For a nation wrestling with big questions about how long to assess students, this pilot program would provide important insight into designing assessment systems that advance learning, rather than just validating learning.

“This assessment pilot could help to break down some policy barriers that competency education supporters face in building these systems,” KnowledgeWorks Vice President Policy and Advocacy Matt Williams said. “KnowledgeWorks has been a long-time advocate for competency-based education, and we are happy that the Every Child Achieves Act creates some flexibility for states and districts to help support students in more personalized learning environments.”

KnowledgeWorks also commends the HELP Committee for its commitment to improving federal accountability and school improvement policies to better align with emerging ideas and evidence building in states.

The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 would maintain a strong federal accountability system by requiring states to establish annual performance goals for all students and subgroups of students that would ensure readiness upon graduation for success in postsecondary education and/or the workforce.  States would have the flexibility to integrate multiple measures into these systems to ensure a deeper picture of student learning in the state.

The bill would also sustain a federal funding stream for school improvement but would give states and districts the flexibility to design evidence-based support systems that build the capacity of under-performing schools.

The Every Child Achieves Act will now advance to the Senate Floor pending a schedule determined by Senate leadership. An identical bill must pass both chambers of Congress and be signed by the President before it becomes law.

About KnowledgeWorks

KnowledgeWorks is a national nonprofit organization advancing a future of learning that ensures each student graduates ready for what’s next. For 20 years, we’ve been partnering with states, communities and leaders across the country to imagine, build and sustain vibrant learning communities. Through evidence-based practices and a commitment to equitable outcomes, we’re creating the future of learning, together.