When the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law on Dec. 10, 2015, it supplanted the No Child Left Behind Act. While some applauded, others lamented the change. The act will take full effect during the 2017-2018 school year, although state assessments and some other requirements went into effect on the day it was signed. Take a look at how ESSA will impact teachers, students, and parents.
Key Elements of ESSA
ESSA puts power back into the hands of the states in order to drive educational decisions based on their local needs. While states must still adopt challenging academic standards for math, reading, and science, the federal government’s ability to prescribe or incentivize standards has been rolled back. States are in charge of setting their own goals and establishing accountability, but they still must prove that their efforts are making a difference by providing substantial evidence of those results.
For example, while maintaining the same testing schedule and reporting requirements, ESSA provides states with options in terms of how they give tests. Exams can occur either through conducting a single test like in the past, or by breaking the assessment down into smaller bites administered throughout the school year. States may also choose to substitute other nationally recognized assessments instead of using a state assessment. This flexibility provides systems the opportunity to take a broader look at inputs to determine whether learning has occurred through a dashboard approach, rather than a single indicator.
One area of education that will feel the impact in particular of ESSA’s scope is low-performing schools. More leeway for states means new room to explore innovative options that may boost the performance of these institutes.
ESSA will also impact teacher equity. States now have more options for determining how to staff their classrooms, although they must still report on outcomes and indicate to what extent their low-income students may be adversely impacted.
Impacts on Teachers
It is hoped that ESSA will bring an end to the “obsession” with testing, allowing teacher assessment to focus more on growth than sanctions. Assessments, in general, will be used instead for improvement and provide a focus for meeting the needs of students.
Increased funds are also being made available for teacher training and professional development. This programming will offer support for teachers, principals, and other school leaders to gain more training related to the use of digital technology in the classroom, especially for English learners. The bill also offers significant new statutory authority and flexibility for states and districts to pursue innovative ed tech strategies in the classroom. An emphasis will be placed on offering teachers a greater opportunity to share their input and provide feedback on the success of the programming.
Impacts on Students
ESSA will place a greater focus on personalized learning. With less emphasis on standardized testing and more flexibility for teachers, the hope is that students’ learning experiences and assessment methods will be tied to individual learner needs.
The Alliance for Excellent Education states, “ESSA offers states and districts several opportunities to provide students with advanced course work, including Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, dual- and concurrent-enrollment programs, and early college high schools.” This could lead to better preparation for higher ed, as states are encouraged to adopt more challenging academic content standards.
ESSA also extends to the youngest students by providing children from low- and moderate-income families expanded access to high-quality, state-funded preschool education.
Impacts on Parents
A more individualized approach can provide parents with confidence that their child’s unique learning needs are being accommodated. Special provisions specifically address the needs of students with disabilities.
Additionally, parents will retain the option to opt students out of any testing.
What the Election May Bring
Regardless of whomever takes a seat in the White House in January, ESSA is in place, and its provisions will stick, so the national election is not likely to bring about any national changes. However, the elections will have an impact on ESSA at a state level.
According to Education Week, the stakes for K-12 policy in this year’s state elections couldn’t be clearer: “Whoever voters pick in the legislative and gubernatorial races will have significant new leverage in shaping states’ education agendas in the years ahead. The reason is the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which gives state governments sweeping authority to design, among other things, teacher evaluations and school accountability systems, topics that political observers expect to dominate policymakers’ 2017 legislative seasons.”
Takeaway: It remains to be seen how the implementation of ESSA will play out as we move forward and as election results drive discussions at the state level. It’s tough to argue against more flexibility to address the unique learning needs of students, especially in an era of personalized learning. The challenge that will remain is the ability to prove in meaningful ways that these more flexible educational opportunities will generate real results.
1. “How the Every Student Succeeds Act Changes No Child Left Behind” Third Way. December 1, 2015.
2. “Every Student Succeeds Act. A New Day in Public Education.” The American Federation of Teachers. N.d.
3. “How the Every Student Succeeds Act Impacts the Classroom Teacher” Learners Edge. February 26, 2016.
4. “Everything You Need to Know About the Every Student Succeeds Act” Alliance for Excellent Education. 2016.
5. “Education Technology in the Every Student Succeeds Act” American Action Forum. December 21, 2015.
6. “Q&A: What You Need to Know About the Fix to No Child Left Behind” The White House. December 7, 2015.
7. “Our Kids Count ESSA & Students with Disabilities” The Advocacy Institute. N.d.
8. “ESSA Raises K-12 Stakes in 2016 State-Level Elections” Education Week. September 12, 2016.