The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): What is it?

Department of Education Building

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law by President Obama on December 10, 2015.  It reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and it replaces the No Child Left Behind Act which was signed into law under President Bush. 

The specifics of the law are due to go into effect during this 2017 - 2018 school year and actions by states are due to take place over the next several months.

Keep in mind that no state has to take federal funds, if it doesn't want to, and the provisions of this law (and previous laws) are based on the acceptance of funds under the law.

The following summary comes directly from 117 - Every Student Succeeds Act.  Public Law No: 114-95.

The ESSA  

The ESSA amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) to reauthorize through FY2020 the following programs:

  1. state assessments;
  2. education of migratory children;
  3. prevention and intervention for children and youth who are neglected, delinquent, or at-risk; and
  4. federal evaluation activities.

The new law consolidates funding for School Improvement Grants, which are aimed at turning around the lowest-performing schools, into the title I-A funding formula. 

(Title I-A funding supports the instructional needs of students from low-income families.)

Specifically, the bill: 

  • eliminates the standalone grant program, and
  • increases the proportion of title I-A funding that a state shall reserve for school improvement.

Of the amount reserved, a state shall:

  1. allocate 95% to local educational agencies (LEAs), (LEAs are typically school districts or local school boards, etc.), whether on a formula or competitive basis, for activities to support the improvement of the lowest-performing schools; or
  2. with the LEA's approval, provide for these activities directly.

The previous law required a state that received title I-A funding to submit a state plan for approval by the Department of Education (ED). The new law specifies that a state plan must be reviewed by peer reviewers whose names are made public. If the Department of Education rejects a state's plan, the state will:

  1. have the opportunity to revise its plan,
  2. be provided technical assistance, and
  3. be afforded a hearing.

The previous law required a state that received title I-A funding to adopt academic standards in reading and language arts, mathematics, and science. The new law requires a state to demonstrate that such standards are aligned with:

  1. the entrance requirements of the state's system of public higher education, and
  2. relevant state career and technical education standards. A state's standards shall include at least three levels of achievement.

**A state shall not be required to submit its standards to the Department of Education for review or approval.

State Assessments (Testing)

This bill maintains the requirement for a state to administer student assessments in reading, mathematics, and science, according to an established testing schedule. A state may administer either a single assessment or multiple assessments that result in a single, summative score. If specified requirements are met, a state may administer computer adaptive assessments. (Such assessments adapt to the examinee's ability level.)

An LEA may administer a locally selected, nationally recognized assessment in lieu of the statewide high school assessment if specified standards and notice requirements are met.

Long-Term Goals

Under previous law, a state was required to establish long-term goals based on the requirement that all students attain a proficient or higher level of achievement within a specified timeframe.

This new law instead requires a state to establish long-term goals for all students and individual subgroups based on:

  1. academic achievement as measured by proficiency on required state assessments, and
  2. graduation rates.

With respect to subgroups, goals must account for the level of improvement necessary to make significant progress in closing statewide gaps in proficiency and graduation rates. With respect to English learners, a state shall establish goals for increasing the percentage of students achieving English language proficiency within a timeframe determined by the state.

State Plans

Under the previous law, a state needed to determine the average yearly progress (AYP) for all students and subgroups at the school, LEA, and state level; AYP standards mandated specified thresholds of performance with respect to assessments and graduation rates.

School Speaker and Alarm

The new bill replaces AYP standards with a requirement for states to annually measure all students and individual subgroups by:

  1. academic achievement as measured by state assessments;
  2. for high schools, graduation rates;
  3. for schools that are not high schools, a measure of student growth or another valid and reliable statewide indicator;
  4. if applicable, progress in achieving English proficiency by English learners; and
  5. at least one additional valid and reliable statewide indicator that allows for meaningful differentiation in school performance.

What indicators, or measurements, will your state choose?

**(This is one of the most significant aspects of the new law as it give states more flexibility to come up with their own measurements and it could mean significant changes in schools across the country, depending upon how each state implements its measurement system).

Based on their systems, states will need to develop methodologies for identifying low-performing schools for support and improvement. Specifically, states will need to identify:

  1. the lowest-performing 5% of schools receiving title I-A funds;
  2. high schools failing to graduate at least one third of students;
  3. schools that have been required to implement additional targeted support but have not improved within a specified timeframe, as determined by the state; and
  4. additional statewide categories, at the state's discretion.
Hallway in School

With respect to identified schools, LEAs (i.e., school districts and/or local school boards) shall be required to develop a plan to improve outcomes. Schools with a consistently underperforming subgroup must develop and implement targeted support and improvement plans. For schools that continue to fail to improve, a state shall take more rigorous action, as determined by the state.

A state plan shall describe how the state will assist LEAs in:

  1. providing early childhood education programs,
  2. improving school conditions for learning and meeting the needs of students, and
  3. serving homeless children and youths. In addition, a state plan must describe how the state will address disparities that result in low-income and minority students being taught by ineffective teachers at a disproportionate rate.

Public Information

A state shall make public any criteria for measuring the effectiveness of teachers and school leaders.

Each state shall prepare and publicly disseminate an annual report card that describes the state's accountability system and includes information regarding student performance, as specified by the bill. Similarly, an LEA (i.e., school district, etc.) shall prepare and disseminate an annual local report card.

The Department of Education shall provide to Congress an annual report card that provides specified national and state-level data.

Common Core and Other Standards

The bill prohibits the Department of Education from attempting to influence, incentivize, or coerce a state to adopt the Common Core State Standards or any other academic standards common to a significant number of states.

The bill requires an LEA plan to include contents similar to those required of state plans.

Information to Parents and Other Information

An LEA must inform a child's parents that they may request information regarding the professional qualifications of their child's teacher. In addition, an LEA must notify parents:

  1. of policies regarding students' participation in statewide assessments; and
  2. in the event that their child was identified as an English learner, the services for which the child is eligible.

Under current law, an LEA shall reserve funds to serve children and youths who are homeless, delinquent, or neglected. The amount of such funds may be determined based on a needs assessment, as specified by the bill.

An LEA may reserve a portion of funds to provide early childhood education programs for eligible children.

The bill expands parental involvement policies to involve other family members. An LEA may receive title I-A funds only if it conducts outreach to all children's parents and family members.

These are just some of the aspects of this law.

What You Should Know

Implementation of state plans is set to begin with the 2017 - 2018 school year, as mentioned.

States can submit their plans by either April 3, 2017 or September 18, 2017.

According to the Department of Education’s website the following states have already submitted their plans: 

  • Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee and Vermont.
  1. What performance measurements will your state decide upon?
  2. What is (or will be) your state's full academic plan?
  3. How with this affect your child or will your child's teacher need to do anything differently, this coming school year, due to new measurements?
  4. Will your state adopt different testing standards or keep the same testing standards in place?
  5. What will your state do, specifically, to communicate to parents...based on the requirements of this law?

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Copyright, Red and Black Ink, LLC, 2017.


S. 117 - Every Student Succeeds Act.  Public Law No: 114-95 (12/10/2015).  Accessed January 24, 2017.

Danita Smith