Colorado Rep. Polis leads House effort to reform No Child Left Behind

On the heels of news that the Obama administration has granted Colorado and 10 other states a waiver from the controversial requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind education law, Colorado Democratic Congressman Jared Polis introduced a House version of the Growth to Excellence Act (H.R. 3845) written by Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall. The bill would rework No Child Left Behind by granting greater authority to the states to develop student achievement and school accountability policies.

The legislation “demands results and accountability but allows states the ability to chart their own course to higher achievement for students,” said Polis in a release. “There is no substitute for improving student outcomes and ensuring that every graduate is ready for college or a career, but where No Child Left Behind was prescriptive and punitive, the Growth to Excellence Act is flexible and focused on what helps better prepare students to succeed and graduate.”

The bill grew from Colorado’s experience as a participant in the Growth Model Pilot Project started in 2005, which allowed states to experiment in tweaking the No Child Left Behind Act accountability system. The idea was to look beyond the one established achievement standard and seek to reward schools that were successful in helping students significantly advance in their learning.

Provisions of the Bennet-Polis-Udall Growth to Excellence Act would allow states instead of the federal government to set measures of achievement and to base those measures on test score growth and high school graduation rates; replicate success by recognizing top-performing schools and districts; and seek to more accurately measure student progress by allowing states to use “adaptive assessments,” which “dig deeper into a student’s knowledge base to better measure knowledge or ability.”

Before being appointed to the Senate, Bennet was superintendent of the Denver Public School system and he has championed education reform on Capitol Hill. He spoke with passion last fall in the Senate chamber about what he characterized as the comically frustrating shortcomings of No Child Left Behind, describing the law as the worst kind of federal overreach. In explaining the priorities of the new Growth to Excellence bill, he emphasized the need to grant local parties the power to shape achievement and assessment efforts according to varying contexts.

“We developed a School Performance Framework in Denver to measure the progress of actual students year over year that served as the foundation for the Colorado growth model, which is now being used or pursued by more than a dozen states,” he was quoted in a release. “Our model has provided the country with an innovative example of how to measure student progress in real and meaningful ways.

“This bill builds on Colorado’s example and ensures we are working towards a sane and useful accountability system that gives every kid a shot at a quality education. I commend Congressman Polis for taking up this bill in the House of Representatives. It is an excellent counterpart to the bill Senator Udall and I have introduced in the Senate.”