Senators introduce bipartisan proposal to reform the No Child Left Behind Act

Photo of a girl in a chair alone in a classroom
No Child Left Behind Law ‘broken’

The latest proposal to rewrite the No Child Left Behind Act will not weaken certain testing requirements credited with improving accountability for the education of students with disabilities, temporarily alleviating the fears of disability advocates.

On April 7, U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash, the ranking members on the Senate Education Committee, released the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015. The bill maintains many of the NCLB’s rigorous testing requirements, specifically in regard to the number of tests students must take in grade school, while shifting more of the burden to states to provide remedies to underachieving schools.

“This bipartisan compromise is an important step toward fixing the broken No Child Left Behind law,” Sen. Murray said in a news release. “While there is still work to be done, this agreement is a strong step in the right direction that helps students, educators, and schools, gives states and districts more flexibility while maintaining strong federal guardrails, and helps make sure all students get the opportunity to learn, no matter where they live, how they learn, or how much money their parents make.”

The NCLB currently allows states to provide alternative assessments to students with disabilities. However, states my not divert more than 1 percent of their students into these exams.

In January, Sen. Alexander proposed an amendment that would eliminate this cap, prompting a backlash from disability advocates concerned that such a change would allow states to skirt their responsibilities to special education students.

Sen. Alexander dropped the requirement in the latest proposal, according to the bill summary.

“The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 rightly requires a state-level 1% cap on the use of the Alternate Assessment based on Alternate Achievement Standards,” the National Center for Learning Disabilities said in a blog post. “This recognizes the reality that the overwhelming majority of students with disabilities can – and do – take the general assessment with or without accommodations.”

The bill also maintains extensive data collection requirements, including those for the education achievement of students with disabilities, which have been credited with improving transparency in educational outcomes.

A companion House bill is expected to be introduced next week.