Educators and interested community members gathered at Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES recently for two public forums on New York’s developing plan to implement the federal government’s Every Student Succeeds Act.
The federal law, passed in December 2015, replaces the 50-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the national education law and longstanding commitment to equal opportunity for all students. Each state must develop a plan to implement the law.
Thus far, the state Education Department has drafted “high concept ideas” addressing topics such as accountability measurements, supporting English language learners, supporting excellent educators and creating challenging academic standards.
Before writing a plan based on those ideas, the state Education Department has sought to obtain feedback from parents, students and educators around the state. The forums held at BOCES on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, March 8 and March 9, were among many held across the state where the public was invited to comment on the plan.
BOCES Superintendent Dr. James Ryan greeted participants and gave them a brief overview of the state’s high concept ideas. Participants then broke into small groups to discuss specific questions posed by the state, and reconvened at the end of the two-hour session to share their thoughts.
Participants at the forums praised the idea of giving school districts the opportunity to pilot locally created assessments and to allow for more frequent assessments to inform instruction. They were almost unanimous in their opinion that English language learners who are new to this country are tested too much, and that this testing could be demoralizing and damaging to the student’s self-esteem. Although it was not offered as an option, many participants supported exempting students from English Language Arts tests in the first year of enrollment and using tests only to measure growth, rather than proficiency, for a few years afterward.
Participants also supported the need for enhanced professional development for teachers, especially in the first three years of teaching. In addition, they favored having standards for principals and assistant principals in schools in need of improvement to ensure that they have experience and have been successful in previous posts. However, they did not favor creating a new credential for such positions, saying that doing so could discourage experienced administrators from seeking posts in struggling schools.
For all of the participants, the forum offered an opportunity to do a “reality check” on the state’s high concept ideas and influence the plan that will be developed. All of the feedback from the forums will be submitted to the state Department of Education for consideration in development of the plan. The forum was organized by the Curriculum and Instruction Service at PNW BOCES.