By Kirsten Baesler
Superintendent of Public Instruction
BISMARCK, N.D., Oct. 26, 2016 -- In North Dakota, we have a proud tradition of local control of education. We elect our school board members and put our trust in them. We have a chance to reinvigorate this tradition as we go about the task of implementing a new federal education law, called the Every Student Succeeds Act.
This law gives more flexibility to our state and local education officials than we have had in more than 25 years.
The previous law put too much emphasis on academic standards and test results as a way of measuring the quality of our schools.
No more. This new law reinforces our authority in North Dakota to determine for ourselves how to measure the progress of our students. It gives us more room to develop their creativity and entrepreneurship, and to help them become productive citizens of our state, nation and world.
Putting this law into place means a lot of work. Shortly after the law was approved last December, I assembled a planning group of more than 50 people, including teachers, parents, school administrators, school board members, business people, legislators and representatives of gifted students and students with disabilities.
Since May, we’ve been holding monthly meetings. If you want to follow our progress, we have a page on the Department of Public Instruction’s website that is dedicated to the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA for short.
What does this mean for our North Dakota students? It means we have more flexibility to provide the programs they want and need. Schools can get recognition for offering career and technical programs, music and fine arts. We can craft a system that encourages all students and schools to improve.
The previous law focused on promoting the improvement of students who were struggling in the classroom. Our new focus is to improve the performance of all students, including our high achievers. After all, everyone can get better at learning, and at applying what they learn.
This new law gives North Dakota the opportunity to develop a school accountability plan that has the right blend of elements to measure the quality of our schools. It will go beyond just standards and test scores. We will have a system that guides and supports continuous improvement for all students, and allows us to focus on the unique path of advancement for each of our students. Our schools and districts will provide periodic reports to parents and taxpayers about how they’re measuring up.
The new ESSA law provides soil in which to plant new ideas and encourage collaboration between parents, teachers, administrators and other education stakeholders throughout our state. We can then reap the rich harvest of young, well-educated North Dakotans prepared to take our state to a brighter future.