ESSA Programs and Requirements: What's New

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The Every Student Succeeds Act calls for states to continue testing students annually, and to look out for vulnerable groups of students. But it includes some new features aimed at providing local leaders more flexibility on testing, spending, school improvement, and more. Here is a look at some of the most important new programs and policy twists in ESSA:

Title IV: ESSA scrapped many smaller programs—aimed at things like elementary and secondary school counseling and Advanced Placement course fees—in favor of a new, flexible $1.6 billion fund that districts can use for health, safety, arts education, college- and career-readiness, and more. Districts can also transfer the funding to Title II, the main federal teacher-quality program. But this school year, Congress only provided a quarter of the funding for this program in its most recent spending bill. Some school districts received only $10,000 and are using the money to make up for reductions in Title II, not to create new programs. Congress, though, recently upped the program's budget to $1.1 billion, which could help pay for some new initiatives.

Weighted Student Funding: ESSA allows up to 50 districts to participate in a "weighted student funding pilot," meaning that they can combine federal, state, and local dollars. The move is intended to help districts ensure that students from high-needs populations, such as English-language learners and students in special education, get their fair share of funding. Four districts and Puerto Rico applied to join the program in the 2018-19 school year.

Innovative Assessment Pilot: ESSA allows up to seven states to try out new forms of testing in select districts, with the goal of eventually using the new tests statewide. The deadline to apply for the pilot was April 2. Before that deadline, four states—Arizona, Hawaii, Louisiana, and New Hampshire—expressed formal interest in the opportunity.

Title I Set-Aside for School Improvement: States must set aside 7 percent of their Title I funding to improve the lowest-performing schools. Ninety-five percent of that money must be distributed to districts, either through a formula or using a competition. Schools that receive these funds must choose a school improvement strategy that has at least a "promising" level of evidence to back it up. At least 14 states will distribute the money competitively, according to an analysis from Results for America's Evidence in Education Lab, a nonprofit research organization.

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Title I Set-Aside for Direct Student Services: ESSA allows states to set aside up to 3 percent of their Title I money for so-called direct-student services, including course choice, tutoring, and dual enrollment. Only two states—Louisiana and New Mexico—are taking advantage of this opportunity.

Indicators: ESSA requires states to look beyond test scores in rating schools by choosing at least one indicator of school quality or student success. At least 33 states picked chronic absenteeism as their additional indicator, and another 35 choose college- and career-readiness. Other choices included discipline data, science, school climate, and even physical education.

Low-Performing Schools

Comprehensive Support and Improvement: This category includes the bottom 5 percent of Title I schools in the state, plus schools where fewer than two-thirds of students graduate. The district must come up with a plan to improve these schools, monitored by the state. If the school fails to improve, the state must step in with a more rigorous plan.

Targeted Support and Improvement: This category includes schools where particular subgroups of students are consistently underperforming, a term every state defines differently. Schools must come up with a plan to fix the problem, monitored by the district. If the subgroup fails to improve, the district can step in.

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Additional Targeted Support: These are schools where any subgroup of students, on its own, is doing as poorly as the students in the bottom 5 percent of schools. Schools must develop a plan to fix the problem, monitored by the district. The plan must include a resource review of the school to make sure these students are getting their fair share of resources. If subgroup performance at these schools continues to lag, they may end up being identified for comprehensive support and improvement.

Deadlines: States begin identifying schools for comprehensive support and improvement and additional targeted support in the 2018-19 school year. And states could begin flagging schools for targeted support in the 2019-20 school year.

Vol. 37, Issue 25, Page 28

Published in Print: April 4, 2018, as What's New: ESSA Programs and Requirements
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