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President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law December 10, replacing the much maligned No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). ESSA aims to fix the one-size-fits-all approach created by NCLB, giving state and local officials more power over testing and accountability.

President Obama called the passage of the bipartisan legislation a “Christmas miracle.”

“[The No Child Left Behind Act] didn’t always consider the specific needs of each community,” Obama said. “It led to too much testing during classroom time. It often forced schools and school districts into cookie-cutter reforms that didn’t always produce the kinds of results that we wanted to see.”

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García said ESSA will ensure that all students have an equal opportunity for a high-quality public education, regardless of socioeconomic status.

“We applaud the U.S. Senate for listening to educators and getting the job done for students,” García said. “We commend Congress for putting students and educators ahead of politics especially in an era of political gridlock.”

In an effort to mend the cookie-cutter approach NCLB took on matters of testing and school accountability, ESSA will give more flexibility in how and when tests are administered and leaves accountability goals up to the states. It also uncouples high-stakes decisions, such as federal funding, from standardized tests.

Other reforms in the law include: allowing states to set a cap limiting the time students spend taking tests; eliminating Adequate Yearly Progress; and providing funding for states to audit and streamline assessment systems.

Since ESSA shifted control to the states from the federal government, the burden now falls to state legislators to determine how the law is implemented.

“Educators will have a seat at the table when it comes to making decisions that affect their students and classrooms,” said Eskelsen Garcia. “This legislation begins to close the opportunity gaps for students by providing a new system that includes an ‘opportunity dashboard’ with indicators of school success and student support. Not only does it reduce the amount of standardized testing in schools, but it decouples high-stakes decisions and statewide testing so students have more time to develop critical thinking while educators do what they love — inspire a lifelong love of learning.”

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