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Opinion >  Editorial

High grade for education accountability plan

The following editorial is from the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.

When Congress in 2015 repealed and replaced the lousy No Child Left Behind Act, which essentially punished struggling schools by withholding funds, thus creating even more struggles for those schools, their staffs and their students, we were hopeful the new law – the Every Student Succeeds Act – would be far better.

It now seems that will be the case – at least in Washington state.

Last week, the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction learned its plan on how to implement the new law received top marks in two recent analyses.

Analysis from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education nonprofit organization, says Washington’s new system for how to evaluate schools is one of the best in the nation. Washington was one of only seven states to receive a “strong” rating from Fordham in every category.

The Fordham Institute praised the plan for using a 1-10 scale to identify schools needing support. In that way, the institute’s analysts wrote, it immediately makes it clear how well specific schools are doing. It also said it measures how much students improved from year to year on state tests, rather than just measuring how many students were proficient, the Seattle Times reported.

Another organization, Bellwether Education Partners, working with the Collaborative for Student Success, says Washington has set ambitious goals for its students that other states should emulate.

State Superintendent Chris Reykdal submitted Washington’s plan in September to the U.S. Department of Education, which is still reviewing the proposal. The feedback from the two organizations is certainly a positive sign.

Frankly, the only reason it matters whether Washington gets federal approval is so federal dollars flow back into the state for public education. The federal government has no constitutional role in education, but Congress wants some oversight, which is why federal funds are held hostage until states follow federal rules.

That’s fine as long as the rules actually help improve education. The previous education act didn’t, but the Every Student Succeeds Act offers states more flexibility in how they measure student progress and how state officials hold schools and districts accountable if they aren’t making enough progress.

In short, it seems to allow states – and local districts – the opportunity to establish standards that work best for students in their communities. The big problem with the previous federal law, enacted in 2002, is that it was so rigid and measured in such a way that it was nearly impossible for schools to fully meet standards if they were challenging.

It was frustrating.

What Reykdal’s office has proposed is encouraging. While there are myriad details to work out, the high praise for the plan indicates it should keep schools focused where they should be: on learning.

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