Dr. Saultz Goes To Washington To Advocate For Education Reform

Andrew Saultz, Interim Dean, Pacific University College of EducationFOREST GROVE, Ore. — A major piece of federal legislation governing educational standards and assessment is past due for reauthorization by Congress. Pacific University’s Andy Saultz is among a cadre of national scholars headed to Washington, D.C., to advocate for changes in that legislation.

Saultz, interim dean of Pacific’s College of Education, partnered with 23 other leading scholars from across the nation to address the need for change in assessment strategies in education, addressing inequalities that affect racially minoritized students, low-income students and students with disabilities, among others.

Their findings were published in a report, “Educational Accountability 3.0: Beyond ESSA,” that was released in spring 2023 and was the focus of an analysis piece co-authored by Saultz that ran in the Washington Post in July. The report advocates for changes to the Elementary & Secondary Education Act.

Saultz and a number of the report’s co-authors will discuss the report’s findings and recommendations in a joint briefing with U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York, the vice-chair of the House Education Committee, in Washington on September 27. The briefing will also address a bill introduced by Bowman to scale back the use of standardized testing in public education.

During his time on Capitol Hill, Saultz will also meet with members of Oregon’s congressional delegation to discuss educational policy and Pacific University.

“It is a good thing that the federal government is thinking about and investing in public education,” Saultz said. “I think that they have done that too narrowly in the past, but over time they have become increasingly interested in the discussion. The last 20 years of federal policy has helped us as a nation have this national conversation about what we want from public schools.”

Originally passed by Congress in 1965, the Elementary & Secondary Education Act was reauthorized and revised in 2002 as the No Child Left Behind Act during the George W. Bush administration. It was reauthorized and revised again in 2015 as the Every Student Succeeds Act during the Barack Obama administration.

The report identifies six principles for providing more equitable assessment and accountability standards with the goal of moving federal standards away from an exclusive focus on standardized test scores to make educational assessment more equitable for all children.

“No Child Left Behind looked almost exclusively at reading scores and math scores and, as a result, schools overcompensated to just focus on those things,” Saultz said. “We are trying to broaden the scope to say that parents, citizens and students want a lot of different things from their public schools.”

Among the suggestions of the report include involving community members in crafting assessment standards, developing standards that reflect a wider variety of metrics other than just standardized tests, providing easier-to-understand results and building assessment structures designed to evolve and improve over time.

Saultz believes that while federal oversight of education standards is important, the implementation of those standards vary from state to state and community to community. Because of that, there is a need for more local input on how those standards are met.

“If we try to apply the same standards to everyone, they are going to lose some of the nuances at the local or state level because we are such a diverse country,” Saultz said. “I think what you want to do is set broad standards and goals at the federal level and then let state and local authorities get into the weeds around curriculum standards to account for geographical and regional differences.”

The report also recommends a system of reciprocal accountability, holding elected officials and government bodies accountable for outcomes in public education, placing shared responsibility between policymakers and educators.

If a government body doesn’t invest in public education, Saultz believes, it is hard to say a school is failing if it doesn’t have the resources to adequately meet the standards.

“I would like to have the discussion at the federal level, to say that it takes more,” Saultz said. “You can’t just look at one side of the equation and ask if a school or teachers are producing graduates with skills without also recognizing that there are other players that need to be involved, should be involved and should be held accountable.”

Saultz hopes that the report and the briefing will not only bring the act closer to reauthorization but also cause members of Congress to think critically about how public education can become more equitable.

“We want to inform policy, to have policymakers think about what is going well and we could improve with the law moving forward,” Saultz said.

Saultz joined the Pacific University faculty in 2018 as the inaugural director of the university’s PhD in Education and Leadership program. He was appointed interim dean of the College of Education in July 2023. Before arriving at Pacific, Saultz was an assistant professor of education policy at Miami University in Ohio.

Saultz earned his PhD in educational policy from Michigan State University in 2014. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Oregon State University in his master of arts in teaching degree from Lewis & Clark College.

Pacific University is the only comprehensive university in Washington County, Oregon, serving more than 3,600 undergraduate, graduate and professional students in the arts and sciences, business, education, health professions and optometry.

Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023