BY JULIANNE STANFORD
The Skagway School District and the state of Alaska are preparing to adapt to changes in federal K-12 education policy that will begin with the 2017-2018 school year.
The Every Student Succeeds Act signed by President Barack Obama on December 10, 2015, will decrease federal involvement in governing K-12 education, therefore delegating more power to each state in determining its own education policy.
This act will be replacing policies from the controversial No Child Left Behind Act, signed by President George W. Bush in 2002, which was known for implementing standardized testing across the country, tying teacher performance rankings to scores from those tests and creating nation-wide school and teacher performance benchmarks.
As the legislation is fairly new, Alaska is currently in the beginning stages of deciding how to shape education policy in the state.
“So there’s not a lot of meat to it yet,” Skagway School Superintendent Josh Coughran said. “This is just kind of the framework.”
Some of the most notable changes in policy will include greater fiscal flexibly for states to allocate federal education funding and the end of nationwide standardized testing.
Other significant changes include the removal of nation-wide teacher and school performance rating mechanisms.
However, that doesn’t mean that the state won’t decide to implement those measures itself.
“I think Alaska will, when they go through their process, require teacher evaluation systems, and I think that’s a good thing for any school district,” Coughran said. “And we don’t have to tie it to student test scores, which was the big fight with teachers unions, and school boards and administrators.”
Under the new regulations, students in third through eighth grade will still be required to take an annual assessment and one assessment in high school. Students will have to take a science exam once every three years.
The only explicit guideline set forth by the new act is that states must adopt challenging academic standards.
“I believe that we already have a set of challenging standards in language arts and math,” Coughran said.
Coughran said that the new legislation is placing a heavy focus on nurturing science, technology, engineering and math education (STEM), and the federal government will be backing that initiative up with funding.
“We’re going to see that as part of a block grant to the state, and so once Alaska gets their system figured out, I think there’s going to be an opportunity for us to get some money for STEM,” Coughran said.
Coughran said he would like to encourage parents to go online to the Department of Education’s website to learn the particulars of the changes in policy.
However, the current political turmoil in the country could upend the planned changes that the 2017-2018 school year would see.
“[The next school year] will be a transition year, partially under the Obama administration, partially under the new administration,” Coughran said. “And I think we’ve all learned that if there’s a new administration, there could be some major changes, and all of this could honestly go away with a new president and a new congress.”