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Aurora Institute

Senate’s ESEA Reauthorization Bill Provides Flexibility for Innovation

Education Domain Blog

Authors: Maria Worthen, Susan Gentz

Issues: Federal Policy, Harness Opportunities in ESSA


By Maria Worthen ([email protected]) and Susan Gentz ([email protected])

Yesterday, the US Senate took historic action to rewrite federal K-12 education law. The 81-17 vote showed clear support for a bipartisan agreement to fix No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The Senate’s bill, the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). The House recently passed a companion bill, and there is now a clear path forward to pass this legislation into law. NCLB’s authorization expired in 2007.

This blog provides an overview of some of the key provisions contained in ECAA that will have an impact on the field of personalized learning.

What’s in the Bill?

In summary, ECAA maintains current annual testing requirements while giving significantly more flexibility to states for how they use assessment data and how they design accountability systems. ECAA also provides important changes to how states can design their systems of assessments. Taken as a whole, these changes maintain an important focus on equity while providing needed flexibility to focus on improving student and achievement and enabling more innovative, personalized learning approaches.

Maintains Annual Testing
ECAA keeps No Child Left Behind’s current requirement to assess all students in grades 3-8 and once in high school in English language arts and mathematics. It also maintains disaggregation of assessment data by student subgroups. An annual determination of disaggregated student outcomes remains a critical tool to highlight and address equity issues in the K-12 education system.

Innovative Assessment Pilot
ECAA includes a new Innovative Assessment Pilot Program, which would allow approved states to better align systems of assessments with student-centered, competency-based approaches. An amendment introduced by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), significantly strengthens the pilot program by including improvements championed by iNACOL and our coalition partners, including KnowledgeWorks, CCSSO, and America Forward. We will continue to work with Congressional staff to emphasize the need for additional improvements to this language as the bill moves forward.

Better State Systems of Assessments
ECAA will allow states to design systems of assessments that measure student growth, that can include computer adaptive assessments with items outside of a student’s actual grade level, and to administer smaller assessments throughout the year that can be combined into a single, summative score.

Current federal law prohibits the use of growth measures for accountability. It also prohibits the use of adaptive assessments and testing outside of a student’s grade level. Adaptive assessments can be used to more accurately pinpoint student performance and growth, in addition to determining grade-level proficiency.

Allowing multiple assessments throughout the year provides an important step forward for competency-based education, as it opens up the possibility to administer assessments when students are ready to take them. Multiple measures throughout the year empowers educators and students to continuously monitor and improve learning.

Enabling Anytime/Everywhere Learning
ECAA would require the US Department of Education to gather data and conduct research about student access to digital learning resources at home and in their communities. The study would highlight the barriers that low-income students face that impede them from benefiting from anytime, everywhere learning. The study was added to the bill by an amendment introduced by Senators Angus King (I-ME) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV).

ECAA also contains the I-TECH program, which would provide funding for states and districts to purchase computer hardware and software, and provide professional development to teachers on using technology for instruction. It would require states to consider how they will promote the use of Open Educational Resources (OER) and support districts to implement personalized learning. As ESEA reauthorization goes to conference, iNACOL will continue to emphasize the importance of ensuring that I-TECH prioritizes the development of transformative new learning models that lead to improvements in student learning.

Innovation Schools
ECAA establishes an Innovation Schools program that would provide districts with flexibility to create locally-designed innovation schools with increased school-level autonomy and flexibility in order to create improved learning opportunities for students. This program was added to the bill by an amendment introduced by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI); we are still analyzing this language to determine its potential impact on the field.

Next Steps for ESEA

The House and Senate bills will now be considered by a conference committee tasked with combining them into one final version of the bill. This compromise bill must be passed by both chambers before the President can sign it into law. We anticipate that two issues in particular will be the subject of intense debate in the conference committee—whether states should be required to intervene in persistently low performing schools, and how the Title I funding formula is structured.

iNACOL frequently meets with staff on Capitol Hill to inform them of developments in the fields of blended, online, and competency-based education. Our technical assistance helps policymakers to enable and scale innovative approaches while ensuring equity so all students have the opportunity to succeed.


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