Bipartisan ESEA Reauthorization Bill Passed by Senate Committee; Includes Many Improvements for Students with Disabilities

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee unanimously passed a reauthorization bill for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) on April 16. The bill, the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA) of 2015, was introduced by the Committee Chairman and Ranking Members, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), to overhaul the last ESEA reauthorization (also known as No Child Left Behind).   During the markup, the Committee considered 57 amendments and approved 29 of them.

The ECAA reduces the federal role in school accountability, but allows the Department of Education to put some conditions on the states.   It would prohibit the Education Department from endorsing or prescribing curriculum, including the Common Core State Standards. The ECAA also would allow, but not require, states to use teacher evaluation systems. The Arc is pleased that the ECAA voted out of committee includes a number of provisions that will benefit students with disabilities, including:

  • Allowing only up to 1% of all students – those who have the most significant cognitive disabilities – to take an Alternate Assessment based on Alternate Achievement Standards (AA-AAS).
  • Ensuring that students in every state who take the AA-AAS are not precluded from attempting to complete the requirements for a regular diploma;
  • Maintaining annual assessments of all students in grades 3-8 and once in high school for reading and math;
  • Including all students with disabilities in state and district-level assessments;
  • Strengthening parental involvement in the decision about whether their child will take an alternate assessment;
  • Providing support to states and school districts to ensure that teachers have the skills and knowledge necessary to instruct diverse learners;
  • Including the “parent right to know” provision, requiring that parents be informed that they may request information regarding qualifications of the student’s classroom teacher; and
  • Asking school districts to describe their plans for limiting the use of restraint and seclusion.

The approved bill will now go to the Senate floor for additional debate and amendments before a vote by the full Senate.

Department of Education Releases State Reports on No Child Left Behind

The US Department of Education released reports for six of 35 states it has monitored concerning their No Child Left Behind waivers.  The reports for Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, and New York represent the department’s second, more intense round (Part B) of monitoring.  The reports of the first round (Part A), conducted in 2012, can be found on the department’s website.  The reports indicated that states are having problems intervening in schools with the biggest achievement gaps.  The department found that Mississippi needed to revise its plans for supporting students with disabilities transitioning to college and career ready standards.

Requirements Changing for States Interested in Renewing Their No Child Left Behind Waivers

The Department of Education contracted with Mathematica Policy Research to examine access to effective teaching in grades 4 through 8 in 29 diverse school districts over the 2008-2009 and 2010-2011 school years. In a November 2013 report, “Access to Effective Teaching for Disadvantaged Students,” researchers concluded that on average, disadvantaged students did not have equal access to effective teaching.

Despite these findings, the Department is changing requirements for states interested in renewing their No Child Left Behind Act waivers that directly pertains to access to effective teachers. Previously, states would have been required to include plans for spending federal professional development funds and for improving the distribution of effective teachers to ensure that children who are poor or minorities are not taught by ineffective teachers at a higher rate than their peers. The Department is backing away from those requirements and, instead, plans to address them for all states, not just the waiver states, “outside the [No Child Left Behind waiver] flexibility process.” The Department’s expectation is that states will “continue to move forward with efforts to support high-quality professional development and increase equitable access to effective teachers for all students.”

The Department of Education Released State Guidance on Renewal of Waivers Under No Child Left Behind Act

The Department of Education released State Guidance on renewal of waivers under The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as the No Child Left Behind Act. The forty-one states, the District of Columbia, and eight districts in California that currently have waivers may request up to two-year extensions. The Guidance clarifies what states must do to obtain renewal waivers: reaffirm their commitment to college and career ready standards and tests; implement differentiated accountability systems that focus on closing achievement gaps; implement new teacher evaluation systems by the 2014-15 school year, and by October 2015, use teacher evaluation data to ensure that poor and minority students are not taught by ineffective teachers at a higher rate than their peers.

The U.S. House of Representatives Passes Bill to Reauthorize No Child Left Behind

The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, by a partisan vote of 221-207, with 12 Republicans and every Democrat voting against it. The bill reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). It includes an amendment sponsored by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) which would allow parents of eligible students to take Title I money to any school, including charters. Currently, Title I funds go to schools with high numbers of disadvantaged students. The bill dramatically reduces the federal government’s ability to set standards for students and teachers and gives that power to the states. It removes the focus on disadvantaged students and those with special needs currently in ESEA. The bill block grants certain funds designed for English language learners, migrants, and others and gives control of these funds to the states. In order to obtain support from some conservative members, Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) had to give up on requiring schools to use student outcomes to measure teacher success.   The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions already passed a very different ESEA reauthorization bill, S.1094, the Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013, sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA). The House voted down an amendment sponsored by Representative George Miller (D-CA) which would have replaced H.R. 5 with the Senate’s version. Even if the full Senate were to pass Senator Harkin’s ESEA reauthorization bill, it is unlikely that the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill could be reconciled.

Department of Education releases data on high school graduation rates

The Department of Education (ED) released several documents concerning high school graduation rates. The first document contains state-by-state graduation data for the 2010-2011 school year broken down by subgroups, including students with disabilities. This is the first time that data have been available to allow comparisons across states and across subgroup populations. The graduation rates for students with disabilities range from a low of 23% in Mississippi and Nevada to a high of 84% in South Dakota. The department also released a letter from Secretary Arne Duncan to State School Officers that reiterates ED’s policy on the inclusion of graduation rates within the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) flexibility waivers. ED also released a best practices document about incorporating graduation rates into state accountability systems.

No Child Left Behind waivers granted to six more states

The Department of Education granted flexibility from some of the accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act to six more states (Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Oregon, and South Carolina) and the District of Columbia. Secretary Duncan is considering allowing individual school districts in states that choose not to apply for waivers to submit applications. Details about the 33 waivers that have been approved are available on the Department’s website.

Several states given the opportunity to freeze their goals for student proficiency under No Child Left Behind

The Department of Education gave several states the opportunity to freeze their goals for student proficiency under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), for one year if their waiver did not come in time for the start of the school year or while they continue working on their waiver applications.  The states given permission to freeze their goals for one year are Alabama, Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, and West Virginia.  The Department also approved waivers for two additional states – Washington and Wisconsin.  That brings the total of states that have approved waivers to 26, meaning that over half of the states are not subject to the accountability system of NCLB.  These states have had to adopt education reforms to improve student learning in order to obtain waivers.  A complete list of where states stand in the waiver process is available on the Department’s website.

No Child Left Behind waivers granted to Arkansas, Missouri, South Dakota, Utah and Virginia

The Department of Education granted No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers to Arkansas, Missouri, South Dakota, Utah and Virginia.  The waivers grant relief from some of the provisions of NCLB.  Each of the five states provided additional information to the department about how it would address students in special education who failed to meet achievement targets.  These states have decided to group subpopulations, including students in special education and English-language learners, into a super subgroup.  The states also had to revise their waivers to better describe how students in special education would transition to college- and career-ready standards.  More information about all 24 state waivers is available at  Waivers for 13 states are still under review.

No Child Left Behind Waivers

The Department of Education granted waivers from key provisions of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to 8 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island, bringing the total number of states to receive waivers to 19, with an additional 18 applications still under review.  Information about the waivers is available on the Department website.

States that receive flexibility under NCLB agree to develop state-level plans to prepare all students for college and careers, focus aid on the neediest students, and support effective teaching and leadership. All of these goals include students with disabilities.