ESSA: The Same, the Changed and the New, Oh My!

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By Samantha Tankersley
In December 2015, President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). At The Foundation for Exellence in Education (ExcelinEd), we read the 391 pages of the law so you don’t have to. You can check out our summary as well as a breakdown of what to expect from ESSA. Inspired by our colleagues at the Fordham Foundation, we wanted to share the top changes in the bill, including the big shifts for state leaders.

Top 5 Eliminated:

  1. Ability of Secretary to incent states to adopt a particular set of standards: Congress took direct action to prevent the Federal government from influencing any state academic standards, including state consideration of Common Core. The Secretary may no longer require states to submit any academic standards for review or approval. Nor may the Secretary “mandate, direct, control, coerce or exercise any direction or supervision over” standards implementation; or require a state to add or delete a specific standard.
  2. Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP): ESSA ends the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) mandate under NCLB, which required that all students in all states make “adequate” annual progress toward 100 percent proficiency in math and reading.
  3. Federally prescribed interventions: Under the NCLB framework, Title I schools that failed to make AYP for two consecutive years were designated as “in need of improvement” with various levels of federally prescribed interventions (see figure below). Under ESSA, it is the responsibility of the state and districts to determine the escalating set of consequences and student supports for each year a school is identified as low-performing by the state’s accountability system.

Federally prescribed interventions under NCLB:

  1. School Improvement Grants (SIG) program: In ESSA, SIG is replaced with a requirement that states set aside seven percent of Title I, Part A funds to help struggling schools improve. With the approval of the district, the state can directly provide for improvement activities through other entities such as school support teams, or non-profit or private external providers.
  2. Highly qualified teachers requirement: ESSA ends NCLB’s requirement that states staff each core academic class with a “highly qualified” teacher giving states greater flexibility to determine who should be teaching in their classrooms. However, states must continue to report their efforts to improve the equitable distribution of effective and experienced teachers.

Top 5 Survived:

  1. Requirement to adopt “challenging” state academic content standards: ESSA preserves NCLB’s requirement to adopt challenging academic content standards in math, reading and science.
  2. Annual testing in reading and math in grades 3-8 and high school: States must continue to assess students in reading and math, annually in grades 3-8 and once in high school, as well as in science at least once in grades 3-5, at least once in grades 6-9, and at least once in grades 10-12.
  3. State participation in National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP):  States must continue to participate in NAEP and publish the results. This requirement serves as “truth in advertising,” ensuring states are setting honest proficiency cut scores.
  4. Disaggregated data: Each state must publish annual school report cards providing accountability measures, student performance and graduation rates, per-pupil-spending, and other measures of school performance.
  5. “Supplement not supplant” requirements (with new flexibilities): Previously, in targeted assistance programs, Title I could not be used for interventions if they were considered “required” under state law. Now, a district must simply show that each school received all of the state and local funds it would otherwise have received.

Top 5 New:

  1. Standards must be aligned with credit-bearing courses in college: In order to protect the integrity of state standards while preventing Federal influence, states must now demonstrate that their standards are aligned with entrance requirements for credit-bearing coursework in the public higher education system in the state and with relevant career and technical education standards.
  2. Innovative assessment pilot: ESSA establishes a new pilot giving states that are ready to move toward competency-based education or other innovations the chance to try out new assessment and accountability models.
  3. New assessment delivery options: Assessments may be administered as a single test or as a set of interim tests that can be rolled up into a single annual result for each student. Computer adaptive assessments are also explicitly allowed, ending the uncertainty under NCLB.
  4. State, district, and school-designed interventions: Freed from NCLB’s prescribed interventions, states, districts and schools will have the flexibility to design their own interventions to help improve schools. States can develop a menu of turnaround strategies, such as extending the learning day, public school choice, intensive professional development, placing schools into an “Achievement School District,” or turning over chronically underperforming schools to a charter management organization.
  5. Optional set aside for “Direct Student Services”: ESSA allows states the option to reserve up to 3 percent of Title I funds to make awards to districts to provide Direct Student Services. Of these funds, 99 percent must be distributed to districts through competitive grants. These services could be supplemental courses (advanced/recovery/CTE), tutoring, or public school choice, including transportation to a different school.

Need more? Visit ExcelinEd’s webpage or view:

For more, see:

Samantha Tankersley serves as Policy Coordinator for The Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd). Follow ExcelinEd on Twitter @ExcelinEd

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