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Every Student Succeeds Act: What Will it Mean for Our Schools?

posted Dec 9, 2015, 8:41 PM by Miranda Martin   [ updated Dec 10, 2015, 8:15 AM by Robin Dutton-Cookston ]

Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Reauthorization: a new framework.

No Child Left Behind looks to be on its way out. The House and Senate have both overwhelmingly approved the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA), a bi-partisan K-12 education bill that would replace the federal education law in effect since 2002. White House approval should be coming at press time today.

Why the change?

Both Democrats and Republicans have supported a move away from the heavy reliance on federally mandated test scores and harsh penalties for schools that fail to meet “Annual Yearly Progress” under the current system. Most states (and some districts, like SFUSD as part of the CORE Districts) have received waivers from the current law. 

What is different about the new law?

Several organizations, including Education Week, and The Education Trust-West have put out useful fact sheets on the Every Student Succeed Act. Here are a few highlights:
  • No more Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) requirement. Under ESSA states and school districts are responsible to develop systems for setting goals, measuring progress, closing achievement gaps, identifying struggling schools, and coming up with improvement plans for those schools. The U.S. Department of education must approve these plans but no longer determines school performance targets (AYP) or mandates strategies for turning around underperforming schools. 

  • State developed accountability systems. States must establish their own accountability systems and have more flexibility in choosing what is measured. Testing must measure academic achievement (including growth over time), graduation rates, English proficiency and at least one other indicator of school quality or student success. This could include measures of student engagement, school climate, access to advanced courses, etc. States can decide how much weight each measure should have, but academic factors would have to count "much more" than non-academic factors. There is sure to be debate about what "much more" means.

  • Yearly tests still required. States must still test students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and one more time in high school. The law also still requires that science tests must be given 3 times before graduation. Ninety-five percent of students must participate in the testing and only one percent can take an alternative test (this would apply to students receiving special education services who represent roughly 10 percent of test-takers). 

  • Increased data disaggregation. Test data is already disaggregated and tracked by: race/ethnicity, socio-economic status, English Learner status, and special education status. The new law requires that, in addition, states break down data by homeless status, foster care status and family active-duty military status. California already requires disaggregation for each of these categories with the exception of family military status.

  • State can choose their own standards: The U.S. Department of Education cannot force or encourage states to adopt Common Core State Standards.  This is a departure from the current system of waivers that often incentivized adoption of the common core.

  • No requirement that teacher evaluation be tied to test scores.  States can choose to evaluate teachers based on student test scores but the federal government cannot encourage or require this practice. This is again a change from the existing waiver system that put strong pressure on states to tie test scores to teacher evaluation. California was one of a small number of states that never agreed to do this.

  • More support for early education. The new law increases support for early childhood education and recognizes the importance of early education programs in closing achievement gaps between low-income children and their wealthier peers. It includes $250 million per year in federal funding for early education.

  • A (small) new stand-alone program supporting family engagement in education.  Ten million dollars per year in grants will be available to statewide organizations to establish family engagement centers to “carry out parent education, and family engagement in education, programs; or provide comprehensive training and technical assistance to State educational agencies, local educational agencies…organizations that support family-school partnerships, and other organizations that carry out such programs.”

  • Increased federal funding for charter and magnet schools. Federal funding for charter schools will increase from $253 million in 2015 to $300 million by 2020. Funding is similarly increased for magnet schools, from $92 million in 2015 to nearly $109 million by 2020.

  • Support for alternative teacher credentialing programs. The new law provides funds for teacher preparation programs and alternative "fast-track" credentialing programs like Teach for America (see this piece in the Washington Post for a lengthier perspective on this issue).

What does this mean for California and SFUSD?

The new law will surely influence the direction of education policy in California, but in many ways our state has already been moving in the direction of the new federal law, or in the view of some, federal policy is moving in the direction of California's model. California has spent the past several years overhauling its education funding and accountability system (adopting the Local Control Funding Formula and creating Local Control and Accountability Plans), and is in the final stages of building a its own statewide accountability system that takes into account more than just academic "proficiency" as measured by test scores. 

  • The new law's requirement that states look at performance measures beyond test scores aligns with California's plan to require multiple indicators, including things like family engagement, access to advanced coursework, and school climate.

  • The federal law will require California to find a way to compare schools to comply with the requirement that states identify and intervene to improve the bottom 5 percent of schools. California's Academic Performance Index (API) was used for many years to rank schools based primarily on test scores. The API has not been reported since it was abolished by the State Board of Education in 2013 as California transitioned to a new system of state testing. Observers have noted that the state board may not in favor of going back to a ranking system and seems to be moving in the direction of supporting a "data dashboard" with a collection of data for each school. 

  • CORE districts like San Francisco have already developed systems to disaggregate student data by demographic characteristics and and monitor achievement gaps carefully. This School Quality Improvement System created by CORE districts could be a model for other districts and states. Superintendent Carranza commented on ESSA at the December 8, 2015 Board of Education meeting that  the "good news is that most provisions of federal education bill fit nicely with our School Quality Improvement Index."

  • The new law will take effect for the 2017-18 school year.

Additional Reading

The Education Trust-West:


Education Week:

ESEA rewrite passes Senate, heads to the President's desk