The Science of Learning Blog

August 29, 2019

6 Things Educators Need to Know about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

BY Karla Wang

What does ESSA mean for educators in 2019-2020? As the new school year begins, educators may be wondering what the second year of implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will look like for their schools. 

Keep reading to learn 6 ways that ESSA can change education in America. 

What is ESSA?

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a US law passed in December 2015 that marks a major shift in education policy for K-12 schools. Signed into law to replace its predecessor No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the act governs American education policy and is the main law for all public schools.

With the stated purpose of providing all children with equitable opportunities to receive high-quality education and close achievement gaps, the law retains elements of NCLB but effectively returns federal accountability provisions to states. In doing so, ESSA leaves more control to states and districts in setting student education standards and determining the consequences of low-performing schools.

Although the act was initially planned to take effect during the 2017-18 school year, its implementation was delayed by the repeal of certain regulations. With every state now following ESSA’s guidelines after the act went into effect in the 2018-19 school year, let’s take a look at how ESSA will change education for our K-12 students and educators. 

How ESSA will affect educators

With the implementation of ESSA guidelines and requirements in every state, here are some things to expect for American education systems:

1. ESSA encourages new measures of school success.

As states are responsible for having a plan in place to identify struggling schools, ESSA introduces additional accountability indicators to create a more accurate scope of student success in schools.

While standard academic factors like graduation rate and test performance remain a key part of measuring success, ESSA recommends states to include other measures of success as well. These recommended alternative indicators include access to and completion of advanced coursework, progress toward early literacy, chronic absenteeism, and other factors. 

Incorporating alternative success indicators can help ease student performance pressures on educators and provide a more comprehensive way to look at school achievement from multiple perspectives.

Because it is up to states to use their discretion in creating an accountability plan, measures of school success can vary from state to state. For example, 33 states have included a college readiness measure in their school accountability plan while only 9 states plan to use a school climate/culture measure.

Knowing what accountability indicators have been incorporated into your state’s accountability plan is important to understanding how to improve your school and help your students succeed. Click here to learn more about your state’s accountability plan under ESSA.

2. Standardized testing will continue, but with more flexibility for schools.

ESSA retains the hallmark annual standardized testing requirements from NCLB. States must still assess students in reading and math every year from 3rd to 8th grade, as well as in science at least 3 times before they graduate. However, under ESSA, states will have flexibility in how and when they administer those tests.

For example, the law allows states to institute a cap limiting the amount of time students spend taking tests and funds states in eliminating duplicative assessments, allowing districts to optimize their assessment systems. 

Additionally, ESSA allows districts the option to use locally determined, nationally recognized tests at the high school level, such as the SAT or ACT, which could help streamline classroom practice/preparation and reduce the amount of test-taking high school students are subjected to.

More importantly, ESSA removes the high-stakes consequences and test-and-punish nature attached to students’ standardized test scores. “Adequate yearly progress” has been eliminated along with the sanctions associated with it, including possible school closure. These changes can help relieve the pressure of statewide testing on teachers and schools, one of the major factors that contributes to high teacher turnover rates.

3. There may be a new focus on literacy in schools

ESSA provides funding for literacy and other grants that can help students succeed through encouraging the use of evidence-based literacy instruction for K-12 students.

To aid schools in building literacy skills for their struggling students, the law creates a Comprehensive Center on Literacy, a national center for literacy and reading issues to help students in special education. The center serves as a go-to resource accessible to parents and educators for information related to literacy and students with disabilities. 

The center focuses on delivering information to educators and parents to better meet the needs of students who struggle with a learning disability, providing tools to detect literacy challenges early on, identifying evidence-based literacy instruction and assistive technology, and developing professional development for teachers on early indicators and instructional strategies.

Another part of the law includes a Literacy Education Grant Program that encourages using evidence-based literacy instruction. This means that educators in states that apply for a literacy grant will have the tools to teach essential reading comprehension skills like phonological awareness, decoding, and reading fluency.

Fast ForWord is one tool that can help educators provide quality evidence-based literacy instruction to meet the needs of every learner. Fast ForWord’s SmartLearning Technology provides students with the reading support they need to make fast improvements in literacy that continue even after they finish the program. The neuroscience-based reading program includes key features to help identify and address student reading difficulties such as:

  • Automated assessment that identifies student reading level 
  • Personalized, intensive reading practice to match each student’s reading ability 
  • Real-time corrective feedback to help students when teachers are busy 
  • Online reporting for educators to track student reading progress

Learn more about the reading intervention program here.

4. You may see more innovative instruction based on student-centered approaches.

ESSA encourages states to explore and expand on personalized learning to design instruction that best meets the learning needs of all students. The law endorses Universal Design for Learning, a powerful framework that helps teachers support struggling and advanced students by tailoring lesson plans to each student’s ability and learning style. 

Commonly referred to as differentiated instruction, the instructional strategy helps reach diverse learners through a wide array of teaching techniques. Learn more about how to differentiate instruction in your classroom here

5. Teacher qualifications and training will vary from state to state.

Teachers play an important role in ensuring every child receives a quality education. With the passage of ESSA, states no longer have to conduct teacher evaluations through student outcomes and K-12 educators are no longer required to be “highly qualified” under federal law. 

The elimination of teacher evaluations could prove to be an essential step toward reducing standardized testing pressure on educators, but does have implications about teacher quality and certification.

The law, however, does create new opportunities for teacher professional development. For example, ESSA’s Teacher and School Leader Innovation Program provides grants to districts that are willing to try out performance pay and other teacher-quality improvement measures. The legislation also provides funding and resources to help train teachers on literacy and STEM in addition to encouraging the creation of teacher residency programs.

6. Parents will play an even bigger role.

Under ESSA, states are required to design their own accountability plans to ensure that schools will help students in special education. That’s where parents can make a difference. The law requires states to include parents in the accountability process, where parents can voice their opinions when developing these plans.

As an educator, encouraging parents to take part in the accountability process can foster parent engagement in their child’s education and academic progress. Supporting parents of disadvantaged and struggling students in driving decision-making is an important step toward closing educational achievement gaps and working towards equity in education.

Encourage parents to reach out to their state’s Department of Education to get involved in ensuring that their child receives a quality education.


Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): What You Need to Know

The Every Student Succeeds Act: An ESSA Overview

50-State Comparison: States’ School Accountability Systems

5 Ways ESSA Impacts Standardized Testing

After No Child Left Behind, 9 Things to Expect for Kids With Learning and Attention Issues 

Comprehensive Literacy Center for Students with Dyslexia, Other Disabilities Included in the Every Student Succeeds Act

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): 5 implications for professional development

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