No Child Left Behind Rewrite Proposal Targets High School ‘Failure Factories’

By Catherine Gewertz — November 19, 2015 2 min read
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A bipartisan agreement that would replace the No Child Left Behind Act cleared a Congressional conference committee on Thursday after only two days of discussion. And it has implications for middle and high school.

My colleague Alyson Klein has abundant detail over at the Politics K-12 blog. The two chambers of Congress are expected to begin discussing the measure the week after Thanksgiving. If it passes, you’ll have to get used to saying “the Every Student Succeeds Act,” instead of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The full text of the bill won’t be available until Nov. 30. But until it is, here are some of the highlights, drawn from a summary of the framework that guided lawmakers’ discussions.

Are annual reading and math tests still required in grades 3-8 and once in high school? Yes. And it preserves NCLB’s requirement for science tests to be given three times between grades 3 and 12, too.

Is there anything else in there about high school tests, specifically? I’m glad you asked. The measure allows districts to seek state permission to make a local decision about what test to use in their high schools, opening the door for exams such as the ACT or SAT to be used as the high school test.

What about that 95 percent test-participation rate that was part of NCLB? Yep, that’s in there, too. Schools and districts have to test 95 percent of their students.

Do states still have to report on the performance of subgroups on those tests? Yes, they do.

What happens if schools or subgroups don’t perform well? The new bill diminishes the power of the U.S. Department of Education over policies like testing and accountability, and puts states back in the driver’s seat. So each state would get to decide how much weight to give tests in their accountability systems, and what consequences, if any, would attach to poor performance.

Is anything at all spelled out about what states have to do about underperformance? Why yes, it is. The proposal says that states must intervene in high schools dubbed “failure factories,” where fewer than two-thirds of their students graduate. And they must intervene in their lowest-performing 5 percent of schools, and in any school where one or more subgroups of students are underperforming.

What happens if a state, district, or school doesn’t test 95 percent of its students, due to an opt-out movement, or for any other reason? That’s not entirely clear yet. Adding another layer of confusion to the testing picture: The measure lets states write opt-out laws.

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.