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Business Roundtable Letter on H.R. 5, the Student Success Act

Dear Congressmen Kline and Scott:

On behalf of Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. companies, I am writing to offer our views on H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, which is scheduled to be marked up before the House Education and Workforce Committee on February 11, 2015.

Business Roundtable CEOs are very supportive of your efforts to reauthorize ESEA.  We have advocated for reauthorization for several years now and are committed to working with you and the rest of Congress to ensure this legislation becomes law as soon as possible.

Our CEO members believe that Congress must focus on ensuring all students graduate from high school with the tools necessary to succeed in college and careers. To accomplish this, we believe the following principles must guide the reauthorization of ESEA.  We are pleased that in many areas, H.R. 5 aligns well with these principles.  However, as highlighted below, there are aspects of the bill we believe need to be strengthened.

Set Clear Expectations: States must take the lead in setting clear expectations for what students in each grade need to know in order to graduate from high school ready for a career and college, without the need for remediation.  These expectations, reflected in challenging academic standards, must build upon those required under current law – which includes standards for math, reading, and science – that are internationally benchmarked and aligned with both college entrance requirements and the skills employers need.

We support language in H.R. 5 that maintains the current law’s requirement that states set academic standards.  However, we are disappointed that H.R. 5 removes the current-law reference that these academic standards be “challenging.”  We believe that all states must set challenging standards that can be benchmarked to prepare their students for college and careers, and encourage you to add that language to the bill. 

Business Roundtable is a strong advocate of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which have been adopted by most states.  However, we strongly support language in H.R. 5 that makes it clear state participation in CCSS must remain voluntary and that the federal government should not be allowed to dictate or coerce states into adopting specific standards.

Define Goals for Success: States must establish rigorous, realistic, annual goals to ensure all students – regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, economic status, first language, disability, or community in which they live – are meeting the state-established challenging academic standards and graduate from high school.  States must also analyze school progress annually toward meeting those goals. Current law requires schools ensure 100 percent of students are proficient in math and reading by 2014.  Although a laudable aim, many believe this unrealistic target has resulted in states lowering their standards to demonstrate progress toward this goal. Setting goals is critical toward both short- and long-term success, but a single federally defined target must be replaced with measures that allow states to establish rigorous goals that focus on raising academic performance and closing the achievement gaps among groups of students.

We support the language in H.R. 5  that requires each state to demonstrate that it has “developed and is implementing a single, statewide accountability system to ensure that all public school students graduate from high school prepared for postsecondary education or the workforce without the need for remediation.”

However, this language should be expanded to make it explicit that as part of such a system, states must also set annual targets for schools and districts toward improving academic success. Such information should also be the “primary” factor in annually evaluating and identifying the academic performance of each public school in the State.

Measure Progress: States must understand where they are today regarding the performance of all students.  States should measure progress toward meeting their education goals by assessing all students.  These statewide assessments should be conducted, at a minimum, annually in grades three through eight and at least once in high school for math and reading; as well as once per grade span (elementary school, middle school, and high school) in science.  These assessments must be state-led, valid, reliable, and aligned to the state’s academic standards. The National Assessment of Educational Progress must continue to serve as a gauge to determine the relative rigor of individual state assessments.

We strongly support the provisions for annual, statewide assessment of all students in grades 3-8, and at least once in high school, in both reading and math, and assessment of all students in science at least once, each, during elementary, middle, and high school that are in H.R. 5.  Both the House and Senate Republican and Democratic bills introduced in the last Congress included this important language, and Business Roundtable will have a very difficult time supporting any reauthorization that does not include these provisions.

Ensure Reliable Data Are Available for Parents, Teachers, and State and Local Policymakers: The federal government has a role in ensuring that states make their data widely available through school, district and state report cards that clearly define progress toward meeting state-established goals.  States must also build accountability systems that reward schools and districts that successfully meet their improvement targets by providing them with increased flexibility from regulations and expanding proven practices that: ensure districts and states take action in schools that consistently miss improvement targets for any group of students, including expanding options for students to attend higher-performing public schools of their choice – including public charter schools; and incorporate student assessment data as one of several measures to evaluate teacher effectiveness, while ensuring data for individual students remain appropriately protected.

We strongly support language in the H.R. 5 that continues to ensure schools, districts, and states provide parents and the public annual report cards on student academic performance. This information is critical for parents to get answers to straightforward questions, such as, “Is my child on track to graduate from high school ready for college, without needing remediation when he/she gets there?”  Given the rising cost of college, it is essential that students not find themselves using limited resources to enroll in remedial courses that should have been mastered in high school.

However, we are concerned the bill does not more clearly articulate the need for states and districts to take strong action in schools where the data point to failure. Such results would strongly suggest the children in these schools need more support, and we believe it is necessary to ensure that these students get the help they need in a timely manner.  In those schools where progress is not being made, action should be taken.  At a minimum, this should include expanding options for their students to attend other, higher-performing public schools of their choice – including public charter schools.

Again, we commend you for acting on ESEA reauthorization and look forward to working closely with you and your staffs, as well as expressing our views on specific issues, as this process.

Sincerely,

 

Rex W. Tillerson
Chairman & CEO
Exxon Mobil Corporation
Chair, Education and Workforce Committee
Business Roundtable