ESSA Gives State and Local Leaders the Opportunity to Step Up and Ensure All Students Needs Are Met

In the opinion pages of the Boston Globe, James Nehring, a Massachusetts professor and former principal, contends that the Every Student Succeeds Act will likely fail to improve student outcomes because the law holds on to accountability requirements “like a dog does a bone.”

“The regulatory process associated with implementation will inevitably corrupt the law’s intent,” Nehring argues, referring to annual assessment requirements. “The accountability regime is turning many schools into test prep centers,” which limits the scope of curricula and instruction. “Teachers and administrators told us they would aspire to something more, but this is what the system demands.”

Quite the opposite is true. High-quality assessments are one of the best tools parents and teachers have to measure student growth and to provide support when and where their kids need it most. Good tests are particularly important to low-income communities and communities of color to ensure that all students are held to high expectations that prepare them for college and careers.

“We rely on the consistent, accurate, and reliable data provided by annual statewide assessments to advocate for better lives and outcomes for our children,” 12 national civil and human rights organizations wrote previously. “These data are critical for understanding whether and where there is equal opportunity.”

Nationwide, a growing consensus has emerged urging families to opt in to meaningful assessments. “Yearly assessments are vital in measuring learning,” the New York Post editorial board wrote earlier this year. “They provide critical feedback about students, teachers and schools.”

Good tests provide parents with accurate information about how well schools are preparing students, and they offer teachers actionable data about where students are doing well, and where they need support. By implementing high-quality assessments, most states have begun to close discrepancies between state-reported proficiency rates and those identified by national, objective measures – meaning educators and parents are getting better information.

Parents should resist the “siren song” of those who want to use this moment of truth to attach high standards or high-quality systems of accountability, Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Institute wrote last year. “They may not be perfect, but they are finally giving parents, educators and taxpayers an honest assessment of how our students are doing.”

The Every Student Succeeds Act gives state and local policymakers the opportunity to create accountability systems that meet the needs of all their students. Congressman John Kline, chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, called the law a “huge success for conservatives” in that regard.

With that increased control comes greater responsibility for policymakers to keep the bar high for students. Overwhelmingly, states that set high expectations for students and matched those goals with high-quality assessments have seen improvements in student performance.

“While there are numerous factors that affect student scores,” Jim Cowen explains, “the 2016 assessments suggest that the promise of higher academic standards—whatever they may be called—is working.”

By keeping expectations high, and holding schools and students accountable to those goals, states are not only better preparing children for success, they are doing right by parents. Evidence shows that parents strongly favor high, consistent education standards and regular assessments. In fact, nearly four out of five parents support annual state assessments, according to a study by Education Next.

As policymakers implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, the message should be clear: Keep the bar high for students. That requires honest, high-quality assessments. Parents should settle for nothing less.