Kati Haycock, CEO of The Education Trust, spoke Thursday at a workshop to help Washington education leaders and advocates better understand the Every Student Succeeds Act.

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The federal Every Student Succeeds Act — signed into law in December with bipartisan support — has been hailed as a welcome change. This is especially true in Washington, which had to follow the full requirements of No Child Left Behind longer than most states.

The new law returns power to states to determine how to use state testing in evaluating schools, rather than using one federal system. Now, education officials are deciding what accountability systems they’ll use.

Those decisions have huge implications for students, said Kati Haycock, CEO of The Education Trust, a non-profit education advocacy organization based in Washington D.C.

“(ESSA) creates the opportunity and obligation to change the accountability system,” Haycock said Thursday at an ESSA workshop in Tukwila. “It’s important that people pay attention.”

The workshop, organized by the Community Center for Education Results, was held to assist education leaders and advocates in understanding the changes and policy implications of the new law.

Before her talk, Haycock spoke with The Seattle Times about the difference between the two laws, the effects of No Child and what this means for Washington students.

What do you see as the biggest change between No Child Left Behind and the Every Student Succeeds Act?

The biggest change is that No Child was one accountability system, one model that everyone had to follow. ESSA has some of the same models, but it mostly leaves it to the states. The states have discretion, and there’s lots of flexibility. The upside of that is it’s something created inside the state, so it’s likely to have longer-term support. The downside is that the federal government’s role is to watch for the disadvantaged kids. Will the states make the achievement of those kids less important? That remains to be seen.

In 2014, Washington was the first state to lose its waiver from many No Child requirements. Do you think the state’s experiences from No Child will lead to different new accountability systems?

The waiver was intended to give states a break after Congress failed to reauthorize the law. The Washington State experience was an unhappy one. Will states have different systems? For sure. Some will create a low accountability system, but others will look at this as an opportunity. States have different trajectories and politics.

You haven’t been as critical of No Child Left Behind as other education advocates. Were there any benefits of the previous law?

A lot of folks have made up their mind that NCLB was this horrible test-and-punish regime, and that things got worse. The data tell a different story. The gaps between groups that were widening in the 1990s closed. The law didn’t do that alone, but it created a lot of urgency. It was supposed to be reauthorized (starting in 2007), and if Congress members had done their job, the perverse effects would not have happened.