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Aurora Institute

Congress Debates and Votes on ESEA for First Time in 14 Years

Education Domain Blog

Authors: Dale Frost, Maria Worthen, Susan Gentz

Issues: Federal Policy, Harness Opportunities in ESSA


This week, the United States Senate and the House took action to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). It is the first time since 2001 that both full chambers of Congress have debated or voted on a rewrite of the Act, also known as No Child Left Behind.

Senate Debates the Every Child Achieves Act

The US Senate began debate on its ESEA reauthorization bill, the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), on Tuesday, July 7. Debate and ongoing votes on amendments are likely to continue into next week.

ECAA maintains annual testing requirements while giving flexibility to states on how they will use assessment data for accountability. ECAA will allow states to rethink assessments and better align them to student-centered, competency-based education. One provision, the Innovative Assessment pilot program championed by iNACOL, will be significantly strengthened by an amendment introduced by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the bill’s manager. This amendment, known as a substitute amendment, includes improvements to support innovative competency-based systems of assessments. The amendment also strengthens language around assessment quality and program evaluation to ensure the right balance of flexibility and rigor.

See the letter signed by 23 organizations, including iNACOL, supporting the inclusion of an innovative assessment pilot in ESEA and outlining key principles for the final bill.

Thanks to the leadership of Senators Alexander (R-TN), Murray (D-WA), Collins (R-ME), Sanders (I-VT), King (I-ME), Shaheen (D-NH), and Ayotte (R-NH), the innovative assessment pilot language is moving in the right direction. Should ECAA pass, iNACOL will continue to work for additional improvements as the House and Senate work to reconcile their different bill versions in conference committee.

House Passes the Student Success Act

On Wednesday, July 8, the US House of Representatives briefly debated and passed its own ESEA reauthorization bill, H.R. 5, the Student Success Act (218- 213). H.R. 5 has attracted criticism from educational equity groups, including concerns that the bill would not ensure equity in its assessment and accountability provisions, that it consolidates funding intended for disadvantaged student populations, and that Title I money could follow students to affluent schools.

Also of concern, an amendment to H.R. 5 that passed would allow parents to opt students out of annual testing and exempt schools from including students that have opted out in the schools’ testing participation requirements (Rep. Matt Salmon, R-AZ). Opt-out provisions can hide the true extent of achievement gaps by making it easier for schools to exclude lower-achieving and at-risk students from data transparency.

In contrast, one amendment of interest would support the expansion of the use of digital learning through competitive grants to partnerships to implement and evaluate the results of technology-based learning practices, strategies, tools, or programs at rural schools (Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-IA). Funds could be used to support course access programs.

The Path Forward

The Senate will continue to debate ECAA at least through next week. iNACOL is closely following the Senate debate and we will provide updates on amendments to and votes on this bill that impact the field of personalized learning.

iNACOL frequently meets with staff on Capitol Hill to educate them on developments in the field and the importance of achieving the right balance of flexibility for innovation while ensuring equity so all students have the opportunity to be successful. Over the past years and months, we have responded to numerous requests for technical assistance from staff as they have worked to draft language for bills and amendments, providing non-partisan advice informed by our member practitioners in the field.

A summary is below; a more detailed version with additional legislative information is available in the members-only iNACOL Member Forums. The iNACOL Center for Policy Advocacy tracks policy priorities and issues related to the field’s needs as outlined annually in the iNACOL State Policy Frameworks. This report provides background information and recommendations for issues on the critical policy shifts needed to transform K-12 education.

Legislative Calendars

  • Oregon adjourned July 6, 2015.

Bills on the Move

  • Iowa Governor Branstad passed a bill that will extend operation of full-time online schools for three more years and report data in Iowa. 

iNACOL 2015 Blended and Online Learning Symposium

The iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium will be held November 8-11, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. Registration is open. Less than one week remains to take advantage of early bird pricing for Symposium registration.

Already a member? Access the more detailed legislative highlights through the Membership Forum.

Not yet a member? Join iNACOL to gain access to this Membership Forum, job postings, announcements, grant opportunities, and the latest information from the field.


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