ATHENS, Ga. — The most recent federal education law gives states and school districts more freedom when it comes to assessing student achievement and measuring school performance, some observers say.

But they also say the devil is in the details.

That assessment was given by speakers at a recent conference at the University of Georgia.

The new “Every Students Succeeds Act,” replaces the “No Child Left Behind Act” enacted under the presidency of George W. Bush, The Athens Banner-Herald reported . Education leaders discussed details of the law during the UGA College of Education’s annual “State of Education in Georgia Conference” in the Georgia Center for Continuing Education.

Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, was the keynote speaker.

“The idea of this law is that every kid has a chance,” he said.

No Child Left Behind was heavy on so-called accountability. It required states to have teacher assessment systems, and promised help for struggling schools with time, revenues and incentives.

But instead of helping them, “we gave them reports and more things to do,” Minnich said.

The teacher assessment requirement is now gone, but “accountability hasn’t left the building,” he said.

No Child Left Behind did bring some good things, such as accountability and data that allowed school districts and systems to see how various groups of students were doing.

“ESSA provides an opportunity to do something different on school improvement,” he said. But “the real commitment needs to be from the local level up to the state level.”

With the new freedom granted by the federal government, some states are taking a more “whole child” approach, or broadening the ways they’re measuring student and school achievement, he said.

One aspect of Georgia’s new plan is that the idea of “the whole child” is stressed throughout the new document, recognizing that things like art and music are important.

“You have really focused on broadening this in a very good way,” Minnich told about 100 school board members, school administrators, college education professors and others gathered in the Georgia Center.

“You have really been thoughtful in how you’re going to help struggling schools,” he added, again focusing on the whole child and asking questions such as whether a child’s school difficulties might be because he needs glasses.

Georgia’s plan also calls for a statewide conversation on assessment, he said.

Local school systems will now have the ability to choose how they’re going to assess school performance.

But there’s a catch or two, explained Melissa Fincher, state associate superintendent for assessment and accountability. Fincher spoke in a separate session as conference attendees broke into smaller groups.

Alternative assessments are going to have to be comparable to what other school systems are doing, she said.

“That’s where the rubber meets the road on this particular issue,” she said.


Information from: Athens Banner-Herald, http://www.onlineathens.com