Intro to ESSA

At nearly 400 pages the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA, the new iteration of ESEA/NCLB) intends to recalibrate the federal-state relationship (thrown out of whack with NCLB) and continues the commitment of the federal government to "quality and equality in the education that is offered to our young people". The law brings with it several key changes in policy for states and districts, including:

  • State Assessment Programs support high-quality assessments through state and district assessment flexibility, federal funding, and a new pilot program to encourage innovation. Still in: the provision that at least 95% of students and 95% of each group of traditionally underserved students will participate in statewide assessments (grades 3-8, once in high school, in ELA & maths).
  • State Accountability Systems focus resources on low-performing schools and traditionally underserved students who consistently demonstrate low academic performance. State goals and accountability systems must establish long-term goals for, at minimum:
    • student achievement, high school graduation rates, and English language proficiency with measurements of interim progress.
    • For the lowest-performing 5% of Title I schools and high schools with graduation rates at or below 67%, comprehensive, locally-determined, evidence-based intervention and targeted support and improvement will increase with need.
  • Improving Teacher and School Leader Quality and Effectiveness: States and districts are responsible for improving quality and effectiveness of teacher/principal/other school leaders for increased student academic achievement, especially for students from "low-income families" and "students of color". ESSA eliminates the "highly qualified teacher" (HQT) provision (in NCLB), replacing with:
    • School districts must describe how they will identify and address any disparities that result in students from low-income families and students of color being taught by ineffective, inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers at higher rates than other students.*
    • States must collect and publicly report data on these disparities.*
    • State plans must describe how students from low-income families and students of color will not be served at disproportionate rates by ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers.*
    • School districts must have mechanisms to notify parents regarding the professional qualifications of their child's teacher.
    • States may use federal professional development funds to increase access to effective teachers for students from low-income families and students of color.
    • Professional development (PD) - ESSA authorizes federal funding for states and districts to provide PD activities that support school leader effectiveness.
    • Teacher and leader evaluations - States may (and are not required) use federal PD funds to implement teacher and leader eveluation systems based on student achievement, growth, and multiple measures of performance - and to inform PD.
*Note that this does not apply to students with disabilities and English language learners. COPAA (Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates) testified before the Committee on Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Education, K-12, and Higher Education first hearing on implementing ESSA. Ms. Selene Almazan, Esq. testified on the "vital role" of ED in implementing ESSA to ensure high expectations of teachers and leaders for achievement of students with disabilities, students of color, and students who are English language learners. A letter by organizations representing parents, teachers, and state and local leaders, expressed strong support for and commitment to putting students first.
  • Supporting and Improving the Quality of Low-performing High Schools: States and districts are responsible for supporting and improving the quality of low-performing high schools:
    • High school graduation rate goals - for all students and student subgroups.
    • Low-graduation-rate high schools - at least once every 3 years, states must identify high schools with graduation rates at or below 67% for comprehensive, locally-determined, evidence-based intervention.
    • Funding for high schools - ESSA allows districts to target Title I funds to high schools.
    • High school program - ESSA eliminates the High School Graduation Initiative (HSGI) included in NCLB and creates a new grant program for states and districts called the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant program.
    • State and district plans must describe how the state will work with districts to provide for the effective transition of students from middle school to high school and from high school to post-secondary education, including integrating AP, IB, CTE and work-based learning, dual enrollment, and coordination with institutions of higher education and employers.
(Emphasis throughout mine).