Jeni Nudell started this school year like most others, focusing on setting up her classroom, getting to know her students, and administering the California English Development Test to her students at the Rosa Parks Learning Center in the San Fernando Valley.

The Every Student Succeeds Act isn’t high on her radar. The new federal law to replace the one-size-fits-all testing fixation of the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act doesn’t take effect until next school year. 

Under ESSA, schools can’t be evaluated on test scores alone and states have almost full authority to determine accountability standards and how educators are evaluated.

Though that’s a welcome change, Nudell, a United Teachers Los Angeles chapter chair and UTLA House of Representatives member, says, for now, she and her colleagues are concentrating on passing Proposition 55 to prevent more devastating cuts to public education, and on Proposition 58 to allow the use of languages other than English in instruction.

We wanted to move away from the test-and-punish prescriptive nature of NCLB and develop robust accountability systems focusing on the whole child. — Jane Meroney, AFT Legislative Department


The AFT worked hard to change the problematic federal law, testifying before Congress and at Congressional-level townhall meetings, visiting members of Congress, and providing educator-based input in all ways possible. “We wanted to move away from the test-and-punish prescriptive nature of NCLB and develop robust accountability systems focusing on the whole child,” reports Jane Meroney, deputy director of the AFT Legislative Department.

The national union is working to ensure proper implementation and develop resources to help state federations through the next phase as educators and other stakeholders determine how states will carry out the new law.

Under ESSA, states can intervene in underperforming schools by any evidence-based methods they choose. They can look at arts and athletics programs; the number of counselors, nurses and librarians; parent and family engagement programs; and other factors that determine school success. Instead of an overall rating, schools will receive results across new categories, and for different groups of students and how each progresses from year to year.

In early September, the California State Board of Education approved accountability criteria that include graduation rates, college and career readiness, school climate, and progress of English learners. “There are still many programs and decisions about implementation that need to be worked out by stakeholders and approved by the State Board, ” says Barbara Murchison, ESSA State Lead at the California Department of Education.

Phase II of stakeholder engagement will provide an overview of the draft state plan and include regional meetings, targeted webinars, and a toolkit for local use. Public comments will be collected online from mid-November through early 2017.

Diane Ravitch, the renowned critic of corporate education reform, sees improvement in that the federal government will no longer punish schools for low test scores or dictate how they should change. But she believes that the ESSA “still preserves the NCLB mindset holding standards, testing and accountability as the keys to student success.” Students in grades three through eight and high school must still take the standardized tests.

Nudell and her colleagues at Rosa Parks Learning Center continue to feel pressured. “We still have Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests and their required non-stop preparation. Why have the metric of a test, if you’re not going to make it someone’s problem when a student doesn’t succeed?”

Rico Tamayo, president of the CFT EC/TK-12 Council is cautiously optimistic. He is grateful for the flexibility and a “softening of punitive measures.” But he says,“ESSA doesn’t alleviate the serious problems we face such as large class sizes, one of the lowest per pupil funding rates in the nation, and inadequate compensation for educators.”

Tamayo looks forward to CFT’s involvement in this next phase of compliance development in California to ensure the interests of classroom teachers are represented to the best extent possible.

— By Mindy Pines, CFT Reporter

Phase II of stakeholder engagement: Our chance to be heard!

Nov. 2–3 First draft of California ESSA Consolidated State Plan presented to State Board of Education
Nov. 18 If State Board authorizes the draft plan, it is published for review and comment
Nov. 18 through Jan. 20 Public comment collected online

» To receive notifications from the California Dept. of Education about public comment opportunities and other plan development activities, send the CDE a blank e-mail message. 

» Sign up for AFT updates about ESSA.