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Heinrich Votes To Expand High-Quality Education For N.M. Students

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) voted to pass the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) a bipartisan, bicameral bill to overturn No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The bill passed the senate by a vote of 85 to 12.

"After more than a decade of high-stakes standardized testing of No Child Left Behind that robbed our students of instruction time and devastated teacher morale, we have finally passed a bill to do away with policies that jeopardize our kids' prospects of a good education," said Sen. Heinrich. "This bipartisan bill includes many provisions that will benefit New Mexico, including programs for Native students and English language learners and investments in early childhood education and STEM. These improvements will enable our teachers and schools to provide quality instruction, while preparing our kids to compete in a 21stcentury economy."

Under NCLB, accountability was centered on test scores, which pressured schools, teachers, and students to focus more on testing than instruction. NCLB set a high bar for student achievement, but never followed through with the resources and support necessary to achieve those goals.  When schools failed, it mandated a one-size-fits-all approach for struggling schools that ignored the unique needs of local communities.

The ESSA eliminates Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), which placed one-size-fits-all benchmarks on schools, and replaces it with a State-designed accountability system. Senator Heinrich included a provision in the legislation that passed today to require state accountability plans to have a comment period to ensure that state assessments and accountability plans are developed with parent, educator and stakeholder input. During a 30-day public comment period, every New Mexican will have an opportunity to view and weigh in on the state's education plan prior to submission to the U.S. Department of Education for approval. In addition, states must provide assurances that those comments were taken into account in the development of the state plan.

Senator Heinrich also included provisions to strengthen programs to better assess the needs of English learners after they have tested proficient in English and no longer need acquisition assistance. Senator Heinrich's provision provides four years of monitoring so educators will have the data needed to determine academic success.  There are currently more than 50,000 students in New Mexico participating in programs for English learners.

Senator Heinrich also worked to include the following ESSA provisions:

—Programs for Native American Students - improves education in tribal communities by creating a new grant initiative to establish or expand Native language immersion programs under the U.S. Department of Education. School districts that serve Native American students will need to consult with local tribes in the development of plans for many federal education programs.  The bill also includes a new program to build the capacity of tribal educational agencies to manage and design federal education programs.

—Support Making Assessments Reliable and Timely (SMART) Act - allows participating states to audit their testing systems to reduce redundancies in testing and increase instruction time.  It also eliminates unnecessary assessments, design more sensible systems that align with standards. State-and district-required assessments take up most of a student's testing time. Often, these tests are reported to be redundant, of low quality, and unnecessary.

—Multiple Measures of Success - allows states to include other measures of student and school performances in their accountability systems in order to provide teachers, parents, and other stakeholders with a more accurate determination of school performance. States will also be required to include graduation rates, student growth, and English proficiency for English learners in their accountability systems.

—Early Childhood Education - expands access to high-quality early childhood education through Preschool Development Grants, which allow states to improve early childhood education coordination, quality, and access. Early-learning programs can strengthen a child's foundation, enabling them to start their K-12 education on a more solid footing.

—Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Achievement - expands formula grants to improve classroom instruction, enhance student engagement, and increase student achievement in STEM subjects. In addition to improving classroom instruction, these grants can also be used to increase student access to high-quality afterschool programs that partner with professionals and researchers in STEM fields.

—21st Century Community Learning Centers - supports afterschool and extended learning opportunities for low-income students. 21st Century Community Learning Centers offer students a broad array of enrichment activities that can complement their regular academic programs.

—Redesign Teacher Evaluations - reduces pressure of high-stakes testing as a measure of teacher quality by allowing states and school districts to design their own teacher evaluation systems based on multiple metrics, if they wish to do so. Provides funding for states to reform the teacher, principal, or school leadership certification process.

Full text of the bill is available here