On Dec. 10, 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law. ESSA is the latest version of the federal government’s most comprehensive K-12 law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which went into effect in 1965. This blog post provides an overview of ESSA and its key provisions, and briefly outlines next steps for ESSA implementation.
History of ESSA and ESEA
With the enactment of ESEA in 1965, the role of the federal government in K-12 education was expanded. This also led to the expansion of Title I, the law’s signature program aimed at helping districts cover the cost of educating disadvantaged students. In 2002, President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which considerably broadened ESEA’s testing requirements and defined specific interventions for schools that failed to make sufficient progress. In 2011, ESEA reauthorization stalled in Congress, and the Obama administration offered states waivers easing many NCLB mandates that penalized states failing to meet difficult-to-attain goals. While providing flexibility in several areas, these waivers required Arizona and other adopting states to embrace standards that prepared students for college and the workforce, along with teacher evaluation measures that incorporated student outcomes.
With the enactment of ESSA in 2015, less emphasis was placed on standardized testing, the federal government’s role in setting accountability requirements and academic standards was reduced, and states are once again responsible for addressing underperforming schools. While easing many federal requirements, ESSA requires that every state set long-term goals for increasing the percentage of students who reach state standards in reading and math and requires each state to raise its graduation rates. These goals must ensure faster improvement for student groups that are further behind. Additionally, ESSA requires that states consider factors other than test scores in designing accountability systems, such as how many students have access to advanced courses, and how many graduate with college credits.
Next Steps for ESSA
Currently, the US Department of Education is going through a "negotiated rulemaking" process on three sections of ESSA law—standards, assessments, and supplement-not-supplant. The Department held its first negotiated rulemaking session March 21-23, with a committee including teachers, state chiefs, state board members, civil rights advocates and others. Federal officials are now writing draft regulatory language for the committee to discuss at their next session, April 6-8 (with an option for an additional session April 18-19). The Department will continue to issue regulations in the upcoming months that define how states should interpret and comply with the new law.
All ESSA requirements, except those pertaining to accountability, go into effect in the 2016-17 school year. This school year (SY 2015-16), states must comply with waiver requirements, which officially expire on August 1, 2016. New accountability systems must be in place by 2017-18, but the Department still needs to clarify whether the new ratings and identification will be based on SY16-17 or SY17-18 results.
The following graphic provides a detailed timeline for ESSA Implementation:
As implementation of ESSA moves forward, Arizona and other states will continue to transition to new assessment systems, unwind their waivers, prepare for new opportunities for innovation, and revise their accountability systems to meet new requirements and take advantage of new flexibilities. The Governor's Office of Education will also be producing a web page containing information on ESSA and updates on its impacts in Arizona as the process unfolds. Please stay tuned for this resource.
Additional ESSA Resources
For more information about ESSA, explore the following sources:
- Education Week
- The Education Trust
- Foundation for Excellence in Education
- US Department of Education
- Arizona Charter Schools Association