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New Education Law Gives Districts Flexibility On Assessments

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Evan Vucci
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AP Images
President Obama speaks with a student as he signs the 'Every Student Succeeds Act' last week.

The No Child Left Behind Act has indeed been left behind. The 2002 Bush-era education law was replaced on Dec. 10 by the Every Student Succeeds Act.  It’s passage was described as a “Christmas miracle” by President Obama, as the bill received wide bipartisan support.

But what does ESSA mean for Pittsburgh schools? For local perspective, Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer spoke with Roseann Javorsky, assistant executive director for teaching and learning at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, and Carey Harris, executive director of A+ Schools.

“I would say, overall, it’s not a big step towards educational equity, but it isn’t a big step back either,” Harris said on the bill.

While the law does not completely do away with all of the features of NCLB, such as the use of standardized testing, it does change how those tests are handled. Standards are now set by the state rather than the federal government, a move which Javorsky described as giving more flexibility to those more directly involved in the schools.

“I really do believe that local schools and communities have a much better idea of what is needed within their school than someone in Washington DC, because what works in Philadelphia, or Boston, or Los Angeles, or even Pittsburgh may not necessarily work for Clairton, Storocks, Duquesne, and others,” she said.

Furthermore, states are able to audit assessment systems and can alter or even get rid of them if needed, according to Harris. She said Pittsburgh Public Schools has already done such an audit and has lowered its amount of assessment by 50% in some grades.

However, the law is not without its criticisms. A major part of contention with NCLB was the idea of “teaching to the test.” Many parents worried that instructors were only teaching students what would be on the standardized tests, rather than actually educating them on subjects.

As ESSA maintains standardized testing, some are worried the same issues will occur. But, Javorsky believes that will not happen now that states are able to control the content of what goes into standardized tests

“We’ll always, I think, have that criticism about teaching to the test, but if the test is measuring the content of what we should be teaching, then you’re really teaching the content, you’re not teaching to the test.”

More Essential Pittsburgh segments can be heard here.

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