May 18, 2016

PSEA President: New federal education law can prove to be ‘breath of fresh air’ for states, schools, and students

PSEA Testimony on ESSA - May 2016


PSEA President Jerry Oleksiak testified before a May 18 joint meeting of the state House and Senate Education Committees on implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). He told lawmakers that the new federal law replacing the No Child Left Behind Act provides an opportunity for a new way to help increase student achievement, and has the potential to be a breath of fresh air for states. 

“Policymakers can use the new flexibility in ESSA to build an accountability system that reduces reliance on state test scores and helps all schools improve,” Oleksiak said. Find a copy of Oleksiak's testimony here.

The ESSA was passed last year and signed into law in December by President Barack Obama. The new law does not do away with annual standardized testing requirements, but it limits the federal government’s authority to prescribe accountability provisions or consequences for struggling schools. Learn more at

Oleksiak encouraged lawmakers to use strategies in designing a state accountability system under ESSA using multiple, valid indicators and clear goals for public schools. He also called on lawmakers to resist labeling schools serving high-poverty populations as “failing.”

“The relationship between poverty and student test scores is perhaps the most persistent and pervasive finding in studies of student achievement,” Oleksiak said. “By pretending, against all evidence, that high-poverty schools should be able to perform similarly to low-poverty schools on test-based measures, we repeatedly label poor schools as failures and wealthy schools as successes.”

Oleksiak also encouraged the legislators to include a diagnostic system to provide information for school improvement, and evidence-based supports to improve learning.

"ESSA provides an important opportunity for Pennsylvania to re-conceptualize school accountability," Oleksiak said. "Focusing accountability on holding schools accountable for what they control and building capacity recasts the accountability system as a positive driver of improvement."




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