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#AskExcelinEd: ESSA



The Foundation for Excellence in Education presents this Question & Answer series #AskExcelinEd on the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to help state policymakers and stakeholders explore and understand the complex new law as well as the many opportunities and solutions to challenges it presents for states.

ExcelinEd’s policy team will answer questions they’ve been receiving, focusing on policy topics essential to successful ESSA implementation. We invite you to send in your questions and share this important information with education partners, stakeholders and others who would like to know more.

The #AskExcelinEd series began with ESSA basics and is building toward more technical themes. You’ll find each Q&A archived on ExcelinEd’s website for reference as implementation of this significant new law unfolds.  

To learn more, visit our library of ESSA resources at ExcelinEd.org/ESSA, and check out videos of our ESSA-focused strategy sessions from #EIE16.

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How Can States Use ESSA to Advance Course Access?

This week we’re discussing opportunities ESSA offers for states looking to launch Course Access policies; next week, we’ll share opportunities for states with existing Course Access policies.

Course Access is a state-level policy that allows K-12 students to access quality courses regardless of location. Course Access policies provide public school students with expanded course offerings (such as foreign language or Advanced Placement) across learning environments from diverse, accountable providers (such as higher education institutions or online providers). Course Access puts decision-making power into the hands of families—empowering them to customize education to meet their students’ needs.

ESSA Opportunities for States New to Course Access
States that are new to Course Access can begin, naturally, by creating a Course Access policy to expand students’ access to high-quality content and instruction. (View model Course Access legislation.)

The ESSA Policy Mechanism: ESSA consolidated over 40 existing student support and academic enrichment programs into Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (known as the block grants) for districts. The law also authorized $1.6 billion in federal spending per year for this block grant (though the programs consolidated to create it were funded only at around $400 million in fiscal year 2016).

State education agencies may set aside up to 5 percent of their Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant awards for state-level activities, including using technology to improve students’ academic achievement and digital literacy. For instance, state education agencies could use these federal funds to identify and provide technical assistance to eligible providers or to create course catalogs to help students understand the variety of available courses.

Need more? Check out ExcelinEd’s ESSA Playbook for Advancing Innovative Policy Solutions and visit ExcelinEd’s Policy Library page on Course Access.

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ESSA Accountability: Indicators of School Quality or Student Success — “With Great Flexibility Comes Great Responsibility”

Last week, states began submitting to the U.S. Department of Education their plans for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). One key decision reflected in those plans—and in future plans from other states—is how to satisfy ESSA’s requirement that state accountability systems include “not less than one indicator of school quality or student success.

The law gives states a significant amount of freedom to select their own indicator or indicators of school quality or student success, as long as the indicators are valid, reliable, disaggregated by subgroup and comparable statewide. As a result, (i.e. school discipline, teacher turnover, chronic absenteeism, satisfaction surveys, etc.)

  • Is the indicator valid, reliable and related to improved student achievement?
  • Does the indicator differentiate among schools?
  • What perverse incentives might result from including the indicator?
  • Does the indicator measure something that is actually under the school’s control?
  • Will adding the indicator dilute the emphasis on student outcome measures?
  • Does the value of the indicator outweigh the administrative budget of collecting and verifying the accuracy of data for that indicator?
  • Is the indicator aligned to the overall policy goals of the state’s education system?

So, what are examples of good indicators of school quality or student success? What indicators should states avoid?

The Good:

  • Growth of the Lowest-Performing Students: This indicator motivates schools to focus on the students who truly need the most academic support, regardless of their characteristics.
  • Measures of College and Career Readiness (for High School): Measuring areas such as student success in Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, dual enrollment courses and industry-recognized certifications, helps schools prioritize college and career readiness.

To be Avoided:

  • Student Attendance: Measures of student attendance do not differentiate among schools since most schools have attendance rates over 90 percent. This indicator could also create perverse incentives for overly strict district and school attendance policies and dilute the emphasis on student learning outcomes.
  • School Culture Surveys: School culture surveys tend to be invalid and unreliable because it is difficult to ensure they are completed by a representative sample of students or parents, and these students or parents may feel pressure to inflate the results. These surveys are also very expensive and time intensive for schools, districts and state education agencies to collect, validate and aggregate.

Need more? Check out ExcelinEd’s Playbook for A-F School Accountability Under ESSA to dig deeper.
You can also check out a detailed analysis of the pluses and minuses of various indicators in these fact sheets from our friends at EdTrust.

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ESSA Accountability: What Indicators Does ESSA Require?

This week, a number of states will submit their plans for complying with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to the U.S. Department of Education. Among other policy proposals, these plans will describe how states will bring their accountability systems into compliance with the law by the 2017-18 school year. State accountability systems must establish a system of meaningfully differentiating, on an annual basis, for all schools based on at least these four indicators:

  1. Academic Achievement;
  2. Another Academic Indicator (growth and/or graduation rates);
  3. English Learner Language Proficiency; and
  4. An “Indicator of School Quality or Student Success.”

The new federal education law also requires that each individual indicator must count for a “substantial”weight, and the first three “in the aggregate” be afforded “much greater weight” than the fourth.

Policymakers and advocates committed to rigorous accountability should ensure that their state plans do two things:

  • As required by ESSA, make academic outcomes the focus of accountability systems; and
  • Combine indicators into a single summative rating, such as A-F school grades. Although summative ratings are not required by ESSA, it is difficult to demonstrate “meaningfully differentiating” without summative ratings. Plus, summative ratings are critical to establishing transparency for the public and clear incentives for schools, and they remain consistently popular with parents.

Need more? Check out ExcelinEd’s Playbook for A-F School Accountability Under ESSA to dig deeper.

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ESSA Accountability: What is the Role of Reporting?

Beginning with information from the 2017-18 school year, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states and districts to publish annual school report cards on or before December 31 for the preceding school year. These report cards will provide policymakers, parents and other stakeholders with important information about the performance of schools in their district and state.

Annual school report cards must include:

  • Student performance data from the state accountability system, disaggregated by subgroups of students;
  • Professional qualifications of educators;
  • Per-pupil spending;
  • Disaggregated results for assessments, graduation and participation;
  • National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) data; and
  • Civil rights data including attendance, course and program offerings and suspensions/expulsions.

These school report cards are a key to state accountability systems; they provide contextual information to empower parents and inform school improvement strategies. Access and usability of school report cards are critical. For this reason, many states have undertaken efforts to create modern, simple designs that take advantage of the latest trends in data visualization. To build on this effort, the U.S. Department of Education released non-regulatory guidance on State and Local Report Cards, which includes key considerations and principles for displaying student and school performance data.

Need more? To dig a little deeper, check out ExcelinEd’s Playbook for A-F School Accountability Under ESSA and the Data Quality Campaign’s detailed analysis of State Report Cardsline

ESSA Interventions: What other policies can enable school improvement?

We have been talking about supports and interventions for struggling schools under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). As states prepare to move forward with school interventions, there are a number of policy options that can improve schools across the board. ExcelinEd believes that policymakers should foster high-quality teacher and leader pipelines, collect and distribute accessible and useful student achievement data, and promote integrated student services.

  • Foster high-quality teacher and leader pipelines. A school’s ability to recruit and retain effective teachers has a significant impact on school quality. Strong instructional leadership from the principal and district support can also produce positive results. ExcelinEd encourages state legislators to improve existing teacher and leader preparation programs within their state.
  • Collect and distribute accessible and useful student achievement data. Data-driven decision-making at the state, district and school level is a common strategy in successful school turnaround efforts. In addition, high-quality and accessible data on school quality helps parents make informed choices for their children.
  • Adopt integrated student supports. Struggling schools, students and families often have additional health, emotional and behavioral needs but have trouble effectively accessing the maze of public and private services in their community. Organizations like Communities in Schools can work in conjunction with other transformative reforms to ensure state and local resources making the greatest possible impact.

Need more? Check out ExcelinEd’s ESSA School Interventions Playbook to dig deeper, or watch this #EIE16 session on ESSA Interventions and Support.

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ESSA Interventions: How can states leverage choice to address persistently low-performing schools?

As we outlined in our previous post, ExcelinEd recommends two key state actions to turn around comprehensive support schools (i.e. a state’s lowest performing schools). One of these actions is to increase school choice to address persistently low-performing schools.

So, what policy levers can states put in place to support the expansion of effective school options and ensure that students assigned to low-performing schools have access to higher quality options as quickly as possible?

  • Remove artificial limits on and promote the growth of high-quality school options. State policies often suppress the creation of new school options. Policymakers should look for ways to enable and accelerate the growth of and access to high-performing charters and high-performing district schools through policies including intra- and inter-district choice and raising artificial caps on charter schools.
  • Foster strong authorizing and accountability practices. While the charter sector has proven more willing than districts to shutter failing schools, too many low-quality charters remain open for too long. States must implement strong accountability practices for charter schools.
  • Attract high-quality charter management organizations: To foster the expansion of new charter schools, policymakers must match accountability with autonomy—especially when it comes to charter management organizations (CMOs). To attract high-quality CMOs, states must ensure charters have appropriate autonomy over budgets, staffing, curriculum and culture.
  • Leverage direct student services to facilitate Course Access. State education agencies can choose to direct 3 percent of their Title I funds toward state-determined student services in low-performing districts. Such funds could be used to support expansion of enrollment in supplementary courses through a new or existing Course Access program.
  • Harness the power of opportunity scholarships. States can establish opportunity scholarship programs. These programs enable students attending a consistently underperforming school to access a voucher (of state funds) to attend a higher-performing public or private school of their choice.
  • Ensure authentic community engagement when schools open and close. School choice can create tension in neighborhoods with struggling schools. Strong community engagement will promote the long-term success of new school options and ensure that any school closures minimize the cost to communities’ unique cultures and social capital.

Need more? Check out ExcelinEd’s ESSA School Interventions Playbook to dig deeper, or watch this #EIE16 session on ESSA Interventions and Support.

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ESSA Interventions: What are the key state actions?

As we mentioned last week, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to create ESSA-compliant accountability systems in the 2017-18 school year to identify struggling schools (i.e. targeted and comprehensive support schools). States must begin to offer those struggling schools supports and interventions the following school year.

ExcelinEd recommends two key actions states can take to turn around their very lowest performing schools (comprehensive support schools):

  • Influence district turnaround strategies by reviewing districts’ school improvement plans and distributing federal improvement funds through competitive grants. ESSA requires states to approve districts’ school improvement plans. The federal education law also allows states to reserve 7 percent of Title I (federal dollars targeted to low-performing schools and districts) for competitive grants for school interventions. ExcelinEd recommends that states evaluate district plans against the most rigorous turnaround strategies and prioritize grant eligibility to districts that adopt these strategies.
  • Increase school choice to address persistently low-performing schools. In schools and districts that fail to improve, ExcelinEd recommends that states supplement these school interventions with concerted efforts to increase the availability of quality school options for students in persistently low-performing schools. This includes policies that encourage charter school expansion, attract high-quality charter operators and promote community engagement.

Need more? Check out ExcelinEd’s ESSA School Interventions Playbook to dig deeper, our watch this #EIE16 session on ESSA Interventions and Support.
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ESSA Interventions: When do ESSA’s school supports and interventions requirements kick in?

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to bring their accountability systems into compliance with the new law in the 2017-18 school year.

Based on these ESSA-compliant systems, states will identify their struggling schools (i.e. targeted and comprehensive support schools). According to the final regulations implementing ESSA, those struggling schools must begin to receive supports and interventions in the 2018-19 school year. If schools don’t improve within four years, the state must take more rigorous action.

However, nothing in ESSA prevents states from intervening before the 2018-19 school year. As we know all too well, many of the same schools that lingered in “restructuring” under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) were in “priority status” under the ESEA waivers. And these same schools are now likely to enter “comprehensive support” under ESSA.

With this in mind, we recommend that states not wait another two—or another four—years to act. Instead, policymakers should support immediate options for students who have been languishing in low-performing schools for far too many years.

Need more?

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ESSA Interventions: Which schools must be identified for support? What is the role of the state in intervening in and supporting these schools?

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to have accountability plans in place for their schools. Based on these plans, each state will identify schools for “targeted” or “comprehensive” support before the 2018-19 school year (based on data from the 2017-18 school year).

Which schools will receive comprehensive support? The lowest performing 5 percent of Title I schools and all high schools with graduation rates below 67 percent.

Key State Role:

  • States Must: Review district plans for school improvement, monitor implementation of those plans, and design and implement more rigorous action for schools that do not improve over time.
  • States May (and Should!): Encourage the adoption of evidence-based intervention strategies by distributing school improvement funds through competitive grants and creating a list of evidence-based interventions. Such interventions should leverage school choice to promote district-wide turnaround strategies and move students into high-quality schools as quickly as possible.

Which schools will receive targeted support? Schools where one or more groups of students are “consistently underperforming,” as determined by the state, or schools that have one or more groups of students who are performing as poorly as the bottom 5 percent of Title I schools.

Key State Role:

  • States Must: Assess allocation of resources and set criteria for schools to exit targeted support status.
  • States May: Create a list of evidenced-based interventions for schools to choose from.

Need more?

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All I’m hearing about are the requirements of ESSA. Where’s all the flexibility? (Part 2)

Earlier, we discussed the Direct Student Services provision in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Today, we focus on the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (known as the block grant) offered in the new federal education law.

How much money is in the block grant?
ESSA consolidated over 40 existing student support and academic enrichment programs into a large block grant for districts. The law also authorized $1.6 billion in federal spending per year for this block grant.

Although states and districts will have greater flexibility to leverage these funds to support their priorities, it is not yet clear how much funding the block grant will receive in the coming years. Although the block grant is authorized at $1.6 billion, the programs consolidated to create it were funded only at around $400 million in fiscal year 2016. And, for fiscal year 2017, the budget has not been passed yet, but:

  • The Obama Administration’s budget proposal asked for about $500 million;
  • The Senate proposed $300 million; and
  • The House proposed $1 billion.

What priorities can states and districts support using the block grant? 
While most of the authority over how the money is spent lies with districts, districts who receive awards over $30,000 must submit an application to the state. This application process provides the state with an opportunity to direct funds towards state-determined priorities within the three categories prescribed by the ESSA statute:

  • Well-rounded educational opportunities: Under this category, states could push districts to expand supplemental course offerings through a Course Access program or to raise student achievement through directing funds towards accelerated learning programs such as AP/IB. This category must constitute at least 20 percent of funds.
  • Effective use of technology: Districts (or consortia of districts) can leverage the funds provided under this category of the block grant to carry out blended learning, provide professional development opportunities for educators, and build capacity and infrastructure within their schools. This category has no minimum on the percentage of funds spent, but no more than 15 percent of funds can be used on technology infrastructure.
  • Safe and healthy students: This category includes activities that foster safe, healthy, supportive and drug-free schools and/or promote the involvement of parents. This category must constitute at least 20 percent of funds.

Need More?

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All I’m hearing about are the requirements of ESSA. Where’s all the flexibility? (Part 1)

We’ve talked a lot about the requirements the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) lays down. Now let’s explore some of the flexibility the new federal education law offers. This week, we will focus on Direct Student Services.

What are Direct Student Services? ESSA includes a provision that gives state and local education agencies resources to test new and expand existing academic services for individual students—known as Direct Student Services. Here’s how it works:

  • The ESSA provision allows states to reserve up to 3 percent of their Title I funds to award competitive grants to districts for the purpose of (you guessed it!) providing Direct Student Services. How much is 3 percent of Title I? It depends on the state’s population and concentrations of poverty. For example, in California, it would be $54 million; in North Dakota it would be $1.1 million.
  • To receive funds, districts must apply to the state, and awards must go to districts serving the highest number of low-performing schools (i.e. schools identified for comprehensive and targeted support).

What priorities can this provision support? Here’s where it gets really exciting. States and districts can use Direct Student Services funds to support numerous initiatives that expand high-quality learning options for students. These initiatives could include:

Need more?

  • For a more detailed look at how states can use the Direct Student Services provision to advance reform, check out our ESSA Interventions Playbook.
  • Chiefs for Change has developed a helpful model application and other resources for states and districts seeking to take advantage of the Direct Student Services provision.
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Does ESSA’s ‘non-academic indicator’ really need to be non-academic?

There’s a new indicator in town. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), state accountability plans must include four specified academic indicators (proficiency, growth, graduation rate and English language proficiency) to track schools’ performance and progress plus an additional “indicator of school quality or student success.

What are the requirements for the school quality/student success indicator?

  • ESSA requires that the indicator be valid, reliable, comparable and statewide; states also must be able to disaggregate the indicator’s results by each subgroup.
  • The indicator could be academic OR non-academic in nature.
  • State accountability plans must give substantial weight to each indicator; however, the plan must give much greater weight to the four specified academic indicators in the aggregate.

So what should our new indicator be?
States have many options for developing their new indicator of school quality or student success. While exploring these options, states should keep in mind that an accountability system’s purpose is to hold schools responsible for helping all students achieve their full potential and to set clear goals for educators and students to rally behind.

One of our partners in Colorado asked if student/family surveys would be a good fit to satisfy this requirement. While surveys can provide valuable information for students, parents, teachers and communities, we don’t think they are appropriate for inclusion in school accountability systems.  Students and families may feel pressure to make their school look good, producing survey results that are not valid. High-quality surveys can also be incredibly expensive to implement.

Instead, ExcelinEd recommends that states keep the indicator academic in nature. For example, states could use growth of the lowest-performing 25 percent of students, which is certainly an excellent—and important—measure of a school’s quality. For high school, states could include measures of college and career readiness—such as student success in Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, dual enrollment courses and industry-recognized certifications.

Furthermore, whenever considering whether to add an indicator to their school accountability system, policymakers should consider the following key questions:

  • Is the indicator valid, reliable and accurate?
  • Does it relate to improved student achievement?
  • Does the indicator differentiate among schools?
  • What perverse incentives might result from including the indicator?
  • Does the indicator measure something that is actually under the school’s control?
  • Will adding the indicator dilute the emphasis on student outcome measures?
  • Does the value of the indicator outweigh the administrative budget of collecting and verifying the accuracy of data for that indicator?
  • Is the indicator aligned to the overall policy goals of the state’s education system?

For a more detailed analysis of the pluses and minuses of various indicators, check out these helpful fact sheets from our friends at EdTrust.
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What does ESSA say about teacher evaluation?

When the U.S. Department of Education granted states waivers to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), those waivers came with conditions. The waivers required states to adopt teacher evaluations that, among other requirements, were based in part on student performance data. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) ends these federal requirements for teacher evaluations.

The elimination of these requirements gives states the opportunity to take ownership of their own systems and refine what they already have in place. ExcelinEd encourages states to continue to take student performance data into account when evaluating and supporting their teaching force.

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) has released a helpful set of principles that states can use as a guide to designing, or refining, systems that support educators.
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What’s the word on ESSA’s 95% participation rate requirement?

We get lots of questions about testing opt out and the ESSA’s requirement that states test 95 percent of students. Some have said that ESSA allows students to opt out of testing, but that is not accurate.

Here are the four key points you need to know about test participation and opt out under ESSA:

    1. States must test at least 95 percent of students overall and within each subgroup.
    2. States determine whether individual parents may opt their students out of tests.
    3. States determine the consequences for schools failing to meet the 95 percent requirement. For example, should a school drop a letter grade in the state’s school accountability system? Should the school be identified for extra support?
    4. ESSA also has some additional built-in consequences for high opt out rates.  When calculating proficiency rates, states must use as a denominator the greater of:
      • 95 percent of all students (or all students in the subgroup) OR
      • The number of students actually participating in the assessment.
      • Example: In a school of 100, 50 students opt out of testing. Of the 50 students who take the test, 40 pass it. The denominator is 95 (not 50). So, the school would have a percent proficient of 40/95 = 42 percent (not 40/50 = 80 percent).
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Can states use multiple assessments across their state under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)?

States generally may not use multiple different assessments across their state under the ESSA. The new federal law requires states to administer the same assessment to all students in the state—except for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who may take an alternate assessment.

However, there are two exceptions to that general rule:

  1. At the high school level, a state may allow districts to select a nationally-recognized high school academic assessment—such as the SAT or ACT—to administer in place of the traditional statewide assessment. ESSA includes rigorous requirements for such assessments, and this flexibility is not allowed in grades 3-8.
  1. Under a new innovative assessment pilot, the U.S. Secretary of Education may select up to seven states (or consortia of states) to experiment with new, innovative assessment and accountability systems. Selected states could begin the pilot with a subset of districts but would have to scale the new system statewide by the end of the pilot period (not more than 5 years).
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What does ESSA say about assessments?

Are states still required to annually assess students?

Yes. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) states must continue to assess and report student learning each year.

  • Reading and math assessments must take place annually in grades 3-8 and once in high school.
  • Science assessments must take place at least once in grades 3-5, at least once in grades 6-9 and at least once in grades 10-12.

Does ESSA allow states to streamline or innovate their assessment systems?

Yes. In fact, states may apply for federal grants (worth a minimum of $1.5 million) to support this process. With these grants, states can audit their existing assessment systems to identify areas to improve and eliminate any state or local tests that are duplicative or low-quality.

Does ESSA provide states with any flexibility surrounding delivery options for annual assessment?

Yes. States may administer annual assessments as a series of interim assessments rolled up into an end-of-year result. However, we’re not aware of any state that has taken this approach.

If a state did decide to use interim assessments in place of a single end-of-year assessment, it would have to ensure the assessments met the technical requirements of federal law. Assessments would need to be rigorous, comparable and aligned to the state’s standards.

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How are local stakeholders engaging in ESSA state plans?

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), state education agencies must develop and submit plans to the U.S. Department of Education explaining how they will comply with ESSA’s new requirements. And these state plans must include feedback from local stakeholders.

The federal law charges states to create their plans “with timely and meaningful consultation with the Governor, members of the State legislature and State board of education, local educational agencies, representatives of Indian tribes located in the State, teachers, principals, other school leaders, charter school leaders, specialized instructional support personnel, paraprofessionals, administrators, other staff, and parents.”

A helpful tool from the Chief Council of State School Officers (CCSSO) and partner organizations guides states through this process. Let’s Get This Conversation Started: Strategies, Tools, Examples and Resources to Help States Engage with Stakeholders to Develop and Implement their ESSA Plans includes a stakeholder checklist, best practices and engagement tools.

What’s going on in my state?

These resources can help track state activity around ESSA in your state.

For further details on how stakeholders are engaging your state, contact your state Department of Education.

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When are state ESSA plans due?

For the past five decades, states have submitted education plans to the U.S. Department of Education to demonstrate their compliance with federal laws and eligibility for support from various federal education programs, including Title I (for disadvantaged students), Title II (for teachers) and Title III (for English language learners). The state plans have been specific to each of the Titles or consolidated in one plan for all Titles.

  • Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), state education agencies must develop and submit new plans that comply with ESSA’s new requirements.
  • In its draft rule, the U.S. Department of Education has proposed two deadlines for submission of state plans: March 6, 2017, and July 5, 2017.
  • Under the proposed rule, state education agencies are able to:
    • Choose which proposed deadline for submission they wish to meet.
    • Choose whether to submit Title-specific plans or a consolidated plan.
  • The U.S. Department of Education would then review and approve the submitted plans—pending compliance with the law—within 120 days.

In developing their new state plans, states must consult with stakeholders and communities throughout the state. Specifically, ESSA requires that the plans be developed by the state education agencywith timely and meaningful consultation with the Governor, members of the State legislature and State board of education (if the State has a State board of education), local educational agencies (including those located in rural areas), representatives of Indian tribes located in the State, teachers, principals, other school leaders, charter school leaders (if the State has charter schools), specialized instructional support personnel, paraprofessionals, administrators, other staff, and parents.

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What would you consider to be the major themes of ESSA?

We believe that five themes comprise the major components, and impacts to states, of the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Each theme includes an explanatory note:

  • ESSA shifts authority over most education policy decisions from federal to state, but the shift is not absolute.
  • ESSA creates new state flexibility for school rating systems, goals and a system of school supports and interventions, but with limited federal “guard rails” still in place.
  • ESSA preserves annual assessments, but gives states an opportunity to audit, streamline and innovate implementation.
  • ESSA gives states greater flexibility to direct federal funds to state-determined priorities, but districts often have the final say.
  • ESSA eliminates the teacher evaluation system required under waivers, but states can choose to continue and/or refine their existing systems.
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For those new to ESSA: What is ESSA and why should I care?

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the federal law that governs K-12 public education policy. It was signed into law on December 10, 2015, after passing with bipartisan congressional support. ESSA reauthorizes the 50-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act and also replaces a previous reauthorization, the No Child Left Behind Act.

ESSA will be fully operational in school year 2017-18. All 50 states have begun working on their transition plans toward compliance. The law represents a major shift in education-related authority from the federal government to the states. When fully implemented, ESSA will affect every public school in the nation and the more than 50 million students attending these schools.line

I’m new to federal education policy – can you give me a quick history?

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This law is reauthorized, usually every 4-7 years, with more recent reauthorizations noted here:

  • Improving America’s Schools Act (1994), signed by President Bill Clinton.
  • No Child Left Behind Act (2001), signed in 2002 by President George W. Bush.
    • Note: Reauthorization was delayed in 2007, 2011 and 2013.
  • Every Student Succeeds Act (2015), signed by President Barack Obama.
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What can you tell me about the ESSA timeline?

Congress gave states 18 months (starting when the law passed in December 2015) to transition their education laws, policies and practices to align with ESSA. The 2016-17 school year is considered a transition year, meaning the new accountability requirements in ESSA do not take effect until the 2017-18 school year.

During the 18-month timeline, states face a number of complex transitions. For example, states must:

  • Design and implement new accountability systems;
  • Phase out their Elementary and Secondary Education Act waivers, which expired in August 2016;
  • Develop strategies for new, more flexible federal funding streams; and
  • Prepare for new opportunities for education innovation.

It is important to note that the U.S. Department of Education is expected to release its final regulations for ESSA implementation until October or November 2016, at the earliest. This means that ESSA implementation—including federal review of new state accountability plans—will occur under a new presidential administration, adding to the uncertainty for state agencies. States can and should remain focused on what is best for their students as they work to fulfill ESSA requirements.

For additional details, view ExcelinEd’s ESSA timeline chart here.