Just a few weeks ago, the Senate HELP committee debated and passed the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), to update the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (or No Child Left Behind). The bill must still be considered by the entire Senate as well the House before it becomes law. However, it seems like this process will continue to move forward over the next few months. The ECAA, though it contains some strong provisions for students with disabilities, does not go far enough to ensure that no child is overlooked in our education system.
Positive Changes for Students with Learning and Attention Issues
Some positive provisions within ECAA for students with learning and attention issues include:
- Meaningful inclusion of students with disabilities in the assessment system: ECA holds high expectations for students with disabilities – including the 1 in 5 who have learning and attention issues. First, it maintains annual assessments in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school. Second, it caps the participation of students who can take an Alternate Assessment based on Alternate Achievement Standards (AA-AAS) to 1% of all students. This is critically important because it the AA-AAS is only designed for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities (who are 1% of the student population) and taking this assessment takes a student off track to earning a regular high school diploma, thereby limiting their future college and career opportunities.
- Maintains transparency: Title I includes provisions that allow parents to know how students with disabilities are doing in their school in relation to others within the state. Parents rely on easy access to information regarding the performance of their child and school. Having this information broken out by subgroup (i.e. students with disabilities) is a critical tool to recognize areas of achievement and also prompt intervention where it’s needed.
- Includes important provisions from the LEARN Act: The Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation program, outlined in Title II Part D, provides a critical framework toward supporting the academic achievement in reading and writing – the foundation for success in all academic subjects. Often, children with learning and attention issues struggle in acquiring and mastering literacy skills. This program provides key supports and investments to support all students, particularly those who may struggle
- Supports professional development for educators in addressing students with disabilities: ECA allows states and local school districts to use their Title II funding to invest in professional development build and hone the skills of educators in addressing the needs of students with disabilities. This is critically important because the majority of students with disabilities are spending most of their day in the general education classroom, though often their educators have had little formal preparation in addressing their needs.
- Emphasizes early childhood programs: Aligns K-12 education with early childhood programs which is critical to providing a seamless system that promotes access and high quality early education for all children.
- New data on positive school climate: Title IV’s Safe and Health Students provision allows for numerous essential programs that allow students to be ready to learn, including supporting the implementation of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, school-based mental health services, mentoring programs for students who are at-risk for academic failure, among others.
However, without any accountability, none of these strong provisions will have their intented effect. Holding states and schools accountable for the performance of students with disabilities matters. It has prompted students with disabilities to be included in general education classrooms alongside their peers setting them on a path for high school graduation and it has prompted additional professional development for teachers.
Needed Changes to ECAA for Students with Learning and Attention Issues
Unfortunately, the accountability structure outlined in ECAA is weak and must be strengthened in several key ways:
- Professional development to better understand and identify early signs of dyslexia and other learning disabilities: Children with learning disabilities – like dyslexia, math disabilities and writing disabilities – spend the majority of their day in the general education classroom, though general education teachers have had minimal preparation and professional development to know how to meet their needs. The ECAA should provide educators with professional development to better understand, identify, and address the early indicators of learning disabilities, including dyslexia.
- Setting meaningful goals: The ECAA must set an expectation that student academic achievement and high school graduation matters most in a state accountability system. Specifically, it must require that all schools and districts set challenging goals that will prompt improvement and ensure success for more students.
- States must identify and ensure that evidence-based intervention occurs in both low-performing schools and low performing subgroups in any school: States must be required to identify, in a timely fashion, and support the lowest performing schools – both schools where all students are underachieving and schools where particular subgroups of students are not meeting proficiency goals and then take steps to close the gap between the lowest performing schools and the highest performing schools and between all subgroups.
If you’d like to know more about the ECAA, you can read an overview that discusses the bill in more detail. If you’re reaching out to your Senators on this issue, feel free to use these talking points. Be sure to follow NCLD’s policy team on Twitter and Facebook for the latest updates on ECAA and what is happening in Congress.