In late 2015 in a bipartisan vote, Congress passed the “Every Student Succeeds Act,” or ESSA. It replaced the old “No Child Left Behind” law and now a year later it’s starting to get attention both in Louisiana and states across the country. ESSA deals with a variety of things, but in the big picture what it does is give states more flexibility and control in the development of their school accountability systems in ways that are less prescriptive than the old law. What is an accountability system in education? Basically it’s the system that’s designed to evaluate how our schools and districts are doing in critical areas involving student performance. Louisiana has a robust accountability system that has been in place for nearly two decades and it has served us well over the years. The passage of ESSA offered states an opportunity to review their accountability systems and make tweaks and improvements to make them more responsive to the needs of stakeholders. That’s a good thing and gives us a chance to build on the most positive aspects of our current system.
But it also gives those who are not great fans of accountability, or many of the other reforms that have shaped education in Louisiana in recent years, the chance to make mischief. That appears to be what’s happening with a new group called the Governor’s ESSA Advisory Council. Made up of representatives from school boards, superintendents, teacher unions, and others from the education establishment, it recently began making recommendations to change Louisiana’s accountability system. From CABL’s perspective their ideas represent a major step in the wrong direction:
- Significant changes in teacher evaluations that deemphasize student performance as a factor in the evaluation
- Ending annual tests in science in four out of the six grades where they are now given
- Eliminating or watering down letter grades which are used to inform parents and citizens how our schools and districts are performing
- Opposing efforts to raise the bar for student expectations over a multi-year period and keeping Louisiana out of sync with national norms for how well students are prepared for college and careers
Of course, a lot of these recommendations are nothing new. Many of the same groups have been pushing legislation for years seeking to dismantle our accountability system or make it less meaningful. Fortunately, lawmakers have pretty much scuttled those efforts in the past, but now the political environment has changed and those on the other side see an opportunity to turn the tide. That’s not the direction we need to go. We have made progress over the years, and more recently there is growing evidence that the reforms we have put in place are indeed beginning to yield the results we expected. Taking our foot off the accelerator isn’t the answer. Building on and improving what we have is a better solution.
To a large degree the very different recommendations put forth by the Louisiana Department of Education do just that. They move us more in the direction we need to go – raising expectations, helping our students compete, and better preparing them for a world where knowledge of science and technology is fundamental. We have come so far on the path we’ve been on that we don’t need new roadblocks or detours to throw us off course. Straight ahead remains the shortest distance to where we want to be.