Education officials, who often clash, agree that a new federal law to replace the No Child Left Behind measure will give Louisiana more flexibility to improve public schools.
State Superintendent of Education John White; Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association; and Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, all praised portions of the 1,000-page bill.
“It is very positive that Congress has formally clarified that issues of standards, testing and accountability are the domain of the states,” White said.
Richard agreed. “I do think the flexibility that is in the new law will allow states to work more closely with local school districts to take some of the emphasis off one test being the sole determinant of student achievement,” he said.
Appel said the law rebuts the notion of a federal takeover of education, one of the rallying cries of Common Core opponents.
“The issue that the federal government is trying to take over public education is clearly put to bed,” he said.
The law says it is up to states to pick their academic standards in reading and math. The federal government cannot offer incentives for them to adopt Common Core — one of the sore points in the 28-month debate over those new academic benchmarks.
The agreement is unusual, for White, Richard and Appel often have vastly different views on school overhauls, including public school letter grades, how teachers are rated and vouchers.
But after months of debate, and years of complaints about No Child Left Behind, its replacement won final congressional approval and was signed by President Barack Obama in a rare show of Washington bipartisanship.
Hollis Milton, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, also said one of the benefits of the new law is more local autonomy.
Nearly a year ago, there were predictions that the GOP-controlled Congress would gut the law and possibly end the requirement that students in grades three through eight undergo annual testing in reading and math.
That did not happen.
What cleared Congress is a law that gives states new authority to identify and remedy troubled schools, which allows state officials rather than the federal government to come up with solutions.
Under the law, Louisiana and other states still have to come up with ways to improve learning in the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools. But instead of employing what critics called the monolithic remedies No Child Left Behind required, states will be able to come up with their own plans.
In another change, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Education no longer will be able to mandate how those schools should be improved.
Good idea, White said.
“I think the secretary’s staff has used their authority to tinker with the accountability system in Louisiana in highly detailed ways that are not always helpful,” he said.
White said federal officials tried to limit the state’s ability to give extra credit to students with disabilities who make solid progress. They also voiced concerns when Louisiana gave annual ratings points to schools for older students who earned a GED instead of a high school diploma.
“On those narrow issues, they will not be as involved in the discussion,” White said of federal officials.
No Child Left Behind, which was enacted in 2001 with bipartisan support, paved the way for major changes in Louisiana and elsewhere, requiring annual reports on school progress and sanctions for troubled schools.
The new law scraps the yearly progress rule. Information on how states plan to repair problem schools must be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education, but the secretary will rule only on whether it complies with the law.
“There is not going to be the one-size-fits-all (approach) with how to intervene in those persistently low-performing schools,” Richard said.
Students in grades three through eight will still be tested yearly in math and reading. They will be tested once in high school.
Richard said local school boards preferred a wider time span between exams.
White, who earlier said such a move would cause “chaos and confusion,” praised the decision to keep the testing requirement.
“It exists to protect the interests of students who may be left to the side otherwise,” he said. “That includes students of low economic means, students with a disability, students with English language needs.”
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