On December 10, 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (“ESSA”) was signed by the President. The ESSA is the most recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), the best known reiteration of which was the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

While the ESSA maintains a number of the hallmarks of NCLB, the law also includes a number of significant changes, many of which are centered on reducing the role of the Federal Government in public education and shifting more power to the states.

Below is a summary of some of the more significant changes in the ESSA. In addition, the National School Board Association prepared a summary of the law, which you can find here.

The White House published a report on the reauthorized law in December, which is available here. The Department of Education has issued two Dear Colleague Letters (December 18, 2016; January 28, 2016) regarding transition from NCLB to the ESSA.

  • Transition & Implementation: While the ESSA went into effect on December 10, 2015, transition will occur over the next several years. Upcoming key implementation dates include:
    • New state plans pursuant to ESSA will take effect beginning with the 2017-2018 school year. Existing state plans will be in effect through August 1, 2016.
    • Existing waivers to states (including Illinois) granted through ESEA flexibility terminate on August 1, 2016. After the waivers end, states must continue supporting their lowest-performing schools (i.e., “priority schools”) and schools with big achievement gaps (i.e., “focus schools”) until states’ new ESSA plans take effect.
  • Testing: Annual, statewide assessments in reading and math in grades three through eight and once in high school, as well as science assessments at least once during grades three to five, grades six to nine, and grades 10 to 12, are still required under the ESSA. States have flexibility to develop and implement innovative assessments so long as they meet certain technical standards. State assessment systems will continue to be peer-reviewed.
  • Accountability: One of the biggest changes under the ESSA is that the “adequate yearly progress” federal accountability system has been replaced. Instead, states must develop their own system, which must be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education for the 2017-2018 school year. The state plans must include long-term goals and measures of interim progress for all students and separately for each subgroup of students. Generally, the goals must address improved academic achievement based on proficiency on tests, English language learner proficiency, and graduation rates. The ESSA identifies “indicators” for elementary, middle schools and high schools that must be part of states’ accountability systems. It will be up to states to decide how much “weight” to assign to the indicators for accountability. In addition, annual reporting of data for all students and disaggregated by subgroups will continue to be required under the ESSA.
  • School Improvement & Interventions: The ESSA also replaces the NCLB one-size-fits-all sanctions and interventions aimed at school improvement. In its place, states must develop a system for identifying and providing support and interventions for schools in need of improvement. States must identify and intervene in low performing schools, including those that are in the bottom 5% of performers with high school graduation rates below 67%, and where subgroups of students are struggling. Schools identified for improvement must develop a school improvement plan in collaboration with community stakeholders, and the plan is to be approved, monitored, and reviewed by the school, school district, and state department of education.
  • Academic Standards: Under the ESSA, states retain the power to choose their own academic standards. The U.S. Department of Education cannot mandate or incentivize states to adopt any specific set of standards, including the Common Core.
  • Subgroups: The ESSA increases accountability for all students and makes changes for certain subgroups. Under the ESSA, accountability for English language learners is moved from a separate system in Title III (English language acquisition section) to Title I (accountability section for all students). The reason for this is to ensure that students who are learning English are a priority. The ESSA also sets forth options for how English language learners’ test scores are included as part of a state’s accountability system. In addition, the ESSA establishes a state-level participation cap that only 1% of students overall can be given alternate assessments.
  • Highly Qualified Teachers: The NCLB highly qualified teacher requirements have been eliminated. In addition, in the ESSA, there are not mandated teacher evaluation requirements. That is, teacher evaluations are no longer tied to student test scores, which marks a big change from NCLB wavier requirements.

This overview is intended only to highlight some of the key changes in the ESSA. There is much work to be done by states, especially as the 2016-2017 school year will be a big transition year. We anticipate additional guidance will be forthcoming from the U.S. Department of Education and the Illinois State Board of Education to support states and school districts in the transition to the ESSA.

ESSA will be discussed at the upcoming IASA Conferences on SB100 and ESSA.

Please contact Stephanie Jones and Jennifer Mueller with questions regarding the ESSA, and we look forward to seeing you at the rapidly approaching IASA Conferences on the ESSA.