The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

The December 2015 passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a reauthorization of the primary k-12 federal education law in the U.S., provides states with significant policymaking opportunity and responsibility and creates new levers for advancing equity and excellence throughout the nation’s schools.

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Rethinking Accountability for Continuous Improvement

One of ESSA’s most significant features is its requirement that states employ a multiple-measures system of accountability. Rather than focusing accountability systems primarily on test scores, these systems must also include other academic indicators, as well as one or more indicators of “school quality or student success.” Use of these additional indicators provides an opportunity for states to build a more holistic accountability system that includes high-leverage non-academic measures of performance, covering such areas as school climate, chronic absenteeism, suspension/expulsion rates, and college and career readiness. The use of a variety of educational opportunity and outcome indicators, with data on overall and student subgroup performance, also equips states with the information needed to identify the most appropriate evidence-based strategies and interventions to support continuous improvement across all schools.

Equity and ESSA

ESSA includes several new provisions that states can leverage to expand access to deeper learning for all students, as well as to ensure that schools and students benefit from the resources and practices they need to create safe and supportive school environments where students and staff thrive. These include:

Assessments: ESSA requires states to implement assessments that measure “higher-order thinking skills and understanding,” explicitly allowing the use of “portfolios, projects, or extended-performance tasks” and computer-based adaptive assessments, as part of state systems. Performance assessments are critically important in advancing high-quality learning. Under ESSA’s predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act, performance assessments were often not prioritized, particularly in schools with high populations of underserved students.

Teacher quality: ESSA requires states to have a plan for ensuring that all students are taught by effective, experienced, and in-field teachers. States must monitor and address disparities in access to inexperienced, out-of-field, or ineffective teachers among students of color and students from low-income households and may also track and address disparities in access for students with disabilities, English learners, and other student populations, such as rural students.

Resource equity and transparency: ESSA goes even further than its predecessor in ensuring transparency in resource allocation. Among the mechanisms being used: states and districts must now report the per-pupil expenditures of federal, state, and local funds for each school and district, disaggregated by funding source, and local education agencies’ improvement plans must identify resource inequities. States are also expected to audit resource equity and adequacy for schools identified for assistance and to invest in them if there are shortfalls or inequalities. ESSA upholds the long-standing principle that federal aid to k-12 education should add to, not substitute for, state and local education funding. For the first time, ESSA also incentivizes districts to consider more equitable approaches to funding.

Stakeholder Engagement

As states transition to this new law, communities and stakeholders will play an important role in ensuring that states, districts, and schools leverage the new opportunities under ESSA to provide high-quality educational opportunities that prepare students equitably for the 21st century. To this end, the law requires stakeholder outreach and engagement during both the development and the implementation of state plans.

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E.g., 02/20/2018