RALEIGH — Since No Child Left Behind became law in 2002, state and local educators have tried to square the figurative circle: letting students learn at their own pace while also making sure they meet rigorous standards.
The debate over NCLB’s replacement, 2015’s Every Student Succeeds Act, ramped up again Wednesday at the monthly meeting of the State Board of Education.
To receive federal education funding, states must create their own ESSA plans addressing challenges with the education system.
“We continue to note that student ownership of their own learning is critically important to the whole concept of personalized learning,” Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin, deputy state superintendent for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction explained.
Personalized learning was a major focus of the discussion, and concerns were raised over how to tailor student assessment to the idea.
Board Vice Chairman A.L. “Buddy” Collins said he saw no difference between personalized learning and what successful teachers were already doing in the classroom.
“It does seem to run contrary to assessment protocols that we have,” Collins said. “Our assessment protocols seem to be premised on everyone reaching a certain point at the same time with the same degree of success.”
Lisa Godwin, the state Teacher of the Year adviser board member, also called for revamping the education system.
“We have to get away from cookie-cutter assessments because our students are individuals,” Godwin said. “Until we start realizing that, we are still going to be in the same shape every year. This is our chance to have a voice.”
Godwin claimed teachers weren’t heard in discussions over ESSA, a belief shared by Bobbie Cavnar, the 2016 Teacher of the Year. Cavnar explained how the board sat down with district superintendents from across the state and heard their proposals on improving student performance. Teachers, principals, business leaders, and parent groups weighed in on their ideas.
“All of that was silenced,” Cavnar said. “I wish Superintendent [Mark] Johnson was here because he keeps saying we need innovation urgently, instead what we are getting is more of the same…This is our chance to be innovative. This is our chance to do something big.”
Johnson didn’t attend Wednesday’s board meeting but was scheduled to be there at a subsequent meeting.
Terry Stoops, vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation, is skeptical of how some board members view the ESSA plan as a means of radically changing the system.
“It is not as if [the federal government] is going to take what is in our ESSA plan and completely change the way we conduct public education in North Carolina,” Stoops argued. “They are going to change the way they report some data and they are going to possibly change the standards by which they administer and report assessments.”
The game hasn’t changed, according to Stoops. The state will tell federal officials what they want to hear in order to collect the check.
“It is sort of the deal the federal government makes where they set forth a bunch of rules and requirements and a condition of getting federal funds is meeting those requirements,” Stoops said. “The federal government is in the business of leveraging money in exchange for certain things. In this case it’s accountability measures.”
The state board has until Sept.18 to submit the ESSA draft plan to the U.S. Department of Education for review.