The bill that reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, formally known as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB), is known as the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA). This new legislation makes significant changes. How can this recommendation be evaluated to determine its effectiveness?
While Ashley has done a great job of explaining the policy changes, there are two minor caveats I would like to express. First, I'm not sure if it is possible to evaluate legislation until a few years after it has been implemented. Instead, to see if the changes are indeed an improvement, we need to spend several years evaluating outcomes, i.e. whether students from all socioeconomic backgrounds are in some ways doing better in everything from easily measurable skills such as math and reading comprehension to more complex goals such as college preparedness, creativity, and critical thinking.
While I agree (as most professional educators I know do) with Ashley's reservations about standardized tests, which encourage simplistic rote learning, increased local control is somewhat of a mixed blessing. There are certain areas of the country where local control might involve eliminating any mention of evolution, introducing religious and other forms of bias into the classroom, and rewriting history to support narrow political agendas.
These caveats aside, ECAA does respond to the need to fix some of the failures of NCLB, including reducing the overly narrow focus on high-stakes testing, giving more autonomy to educators, and emphasizing funding rather than punishing at-risk students.
One way to determine the effectiveness of the Every Child Can Achieve Act (ECAA) is to examine how some of the changes in assessment and federal mandates impact teaching and learning.
One of the primary problems with the No Child Left Behind legislation was its reliance on standardized testing as the sole metric of student learning. This was problematic on several fronts. It created a setting where teachers "taught to the test," often sacrificing other aspects of the content. It also developed an anxiety-ridden setting for both educators and learners. Additionally, the legislation possessed the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) component, a key contributor to increased tension and pressure on stakeholders.
The ECAA moves away from this. The legislation calls for "a menu of indicators of school quality and student success (i.e. access to advanced coursework, access to school counselors or nurses and access to fine arts and regular physical education) to be part of new, state-designed accountability systems." The legislation allows localities to judge what constitutes students learning. For example, states can determine for themselves the weight of standardized testing practices. The emphasis on local control of student learning and teacher accountability can be a way through which the legislation's effectiveness can be gauged. Under ECAA, if a locality determines that student learning metrics need to be changed, it can enact changes in real time without federal mandates. Being able to increase local control is one way to determine the legislation's effectiveness. The more that local citizenry can use their voice to change the direction and metrics of accountability in public schools, the more effective ECAA legislation becomes.