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Pa. education secretary lauds new federal school accountability law

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

President Obama last week signed a bill that weakens federal oversight of public schools and transfers autonomy to the states.

Pennsylvania Education Secretary Pedro Rivera says the outgoing No Child Left Behind law was a "cookie cutter" approach that put too much stock in one-size-fits-all testing.

Rivera says he’s "extremely pleased" with its replacement, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act.

"Creating the opportunity for states to create a system of accountability and support that can be differentiated based on the needs of students is probably most important," said Rivera.

NCLB created a national system that judged schools based on math and reading test scores. Every Student Succeeds erases that system. Instead it lets each state develop its own methods for judging school quality.

The only mandatory standards in NCLB were state standardized tests. Annually, schools either had to raise scores or face escalating penalties.

Under the new law, states still must test students in grades 3-8 and once in high school, but states have the power to develop their own accountability tools, including other more holistic measures.

Pennsylvania developed its School Performance Profile measurement system through a federal waiver to NCLB. Still, 90 percent of SPP scores come from test results.

ESSA makes further waivers unnecessary.

Rivera says his boss, Gov. Wolf, will soon roll out a new method to measure school achievement that he believes will give a much more nuanced look at school performance — one made after getting input from educators, administrators, advocates, lawmakers and parents across the commonwealth.

Rivera says the new accountability system will offer a less punitive atmosphere for schools serving students with special education needs and those still learning English.

"[Those students] will still take the tests, but it won’t be the end-all, be-all, the only measurement to access success," said Rivera.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks