Steinhauer testifies on ESSA

NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer testified before the Joint Committee on Public Schools today. As the committee seeks input on the implementation of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Steinhauer took the opportunity to discuss issues that will have the most significant impact on educators and their daily lives in the classroom.

ESSA brings potential relief from the “test and punish” mentality that has permeated schools throughout the 14-year tenure of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Unlike NCLB, ESSA requires states to seek multiple measures as indicators for school success. While ESSA identifies four specific indicators to measure school effectiveness, it also requires each state to choose an additional indicator that would best meet the needs of the students who reside in the state. Under NCLB, the only indicator of school effectiveness was student performance on statewide standardized tests.

As lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and both houses listened, Steinhauer proposed that the Joint Committee on Public Schools support an additional indicator that he called a “student success index.”

“A student success index would place an emphasis on what matters to students,” Steinhauer said. “It would take into account critical factors that we know are tied to student success. We would look at access to health services, access to after-school support programs, class size and other factors that yield results. A student success index, paired with other indicators required under ESSA to measure school effectiveness, would ensure that districts across the state focus on multiple elements of a student’s experience.”

ESSA de-emphasizes the role that statewide standardized tests play in schools. Steinhauer did not miss the chance to urge the Joint Committee to consider the implication of the new federal law as they influence the implementation of ESSA.

“The obsession with high-stakes, standardized testing has to stop,” Steinhauer said. “Simply put, the impact of these tests on schools is toxic. ESSA specifically calls for states to require multiple measures—a wide variety of measures—as indicators for school success. In fact, when ESSA was signed into law, it prohibited the federal government from requiring states to use standardized assessments for teacher evaluation. We know that using testing for teacher evaluation is inaccurate and ineffective. We must not let this opportunity pass. We must stop using standardized tests to measure teacher effectiveness.”

Community schools

Steinhauer further recommended that the committee implement new and innovative ways to support schools that need assistance. Rather than suggesting the traditional remedies of more funding and more oversight, Steinhauer recommended that the committee support the development of Community Schools.

“Community schools are schools that are unique to each community,” Steinhauer said. “They are not a one-size-fits-all approach to school improvement. They are not a simple addition of wrap-around services to schools. Community Schools invite community leaders to work with educators and students to better the community together. They are research-based and have proven to help schools across the country.”

View Steinhauer’s full testimony here.

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