PARIS — Superintendent Rick Colpitts said flexibility may be key to developing a successful and accountable method of assessing student progress under the Every Student Succeeds Act.
The bipartisan bill that was signed into law in December of 2015 to fix No Child Left Behind sets high standards and contains policies that will help prepare all students for success in college and future careers, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
U.S. Education Secretary John B. King, Jr. and other top education leaders told Colpitts and school leaders from across the nation during last week’s American Association of School Administrators Superintendent of the Year Conference that they must lobby their state education departments to build a successful state model.
“The federal government has left much of the accountability decisions (for the ESSA) with the states. Their message was for us to lobby with our individual state department of educations to take advantage of that flexibility. Their impression is that many are not taking advantage of the flexibility. The federal government will not second guess the decisions of the states,” Colpitts told the Advertiser Democrat upon his return from the conference in Washington D.C.
Colpitts was in Washington D.C. at one of his last events as this year’s Maine Superintendent of the Year.
During the conference, he and education leaders from across the country discussed a number of issues including the Every Student Succeeds Act that was signed by President Barack Obama on Dec. 10, 2015. It essentially returns decision-making for education back to local educators, parents and communities.
ESSA replaces the 2002 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, by reauthorizing the 50-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act. ESSA is considered to be a significant improvement over the current law by building on key areas of progress in recent years, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Many educators felt the No Child Left Behind was unrealistic in part because it measured a students’ college readiness on tests alone and had a “one size fits all” identification and interventions.
In part, the ESSA law:
• maintains federal role, but emphasizes role is to support/strengthen, not dictate/prescribe to, schools.
• returns pendulum of federal overreach and prescription back to state/local control.
• mandates that states must have high standards.
• maintains annual assessments in math and ELA, and grade-span testing in science.
• provides most children access to high quality preschool
• holds all students to high academic standards.
Colpitts said he has been working with the Maine School Superintendents Association to promote an AASA initiative called “College, Work and Life Ready,” with the Maine Department of Education.
In short, the AASA believes that a student’s “readiness” or potential for success should not be determined by a single standardized test score. AASA has a list of indicators including academic indicators, attendance, community service, emotional indicators and other measurements for success.
The AASA has added proficiency as an indicator in recognition of Maine’s system.
“I have been suggesting to the commissioner that this initiative may provide Maine a more balanced way of assessing student progress for ESSA purposes,” Colpitts said. “This alternative is being included in many other state ESSA plans as well. Its inclusion is being discussed by the state’s ESSA planning team as a result of our conversations.”
Colpitts said that while in the nation’s capital he was able to talk to Sen. Susan Collins about the SAD 17 school district’s loss of federal rural funding because the district has 3,000 more population than the maximum 20,000 population allowed under the Rural School Grant program .
Earlier this month the Oxford Hills School District board of directors was told that federal funding to hire a fifth-grade teacher at Paris Elementary School to address overcrowding issues was withdrawn after it was discovered that SAD 17 is ineligible for a rural school grant because its population is over 20,000.
The necessary $35,000 had to eventually be taken from the district’s Contingency Fund. It will be replaced later through the operating budget.
Colpitts promised at that time to try to address the issue of losing access to certain federal grants because of the district’s 23,000 population with the state’s congressional delegation when he went to Washington, D.C.
“While there I was able to meet with Susan Collins and her education policy advisor. I was able to press for our inclusion for eligibility of Title 6 rural education funding,” Colpitts said. “I was able to share our frustration with the withdrawal of our state department of education’s decision to fund SAD 17. I was assured that they would follow up on it.”