Every Student Succeeds Act

ESSA Guidance Continues to Roll Out

By Alyson Klein — February 08, 2016 2 min read
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The Every Student Succeeds Act may be the law of the land, but it won’t be fully in place until the 2017-18 school year.

Between now and then, the federal government, states, and school districts will be transitioning to the ESSA from the No Child Left Behind Act, the previous version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and from the Obama administration’s NCLB waivers. Those waivers—which are in place in 42 states and the District of Columbia—are null and void as of Aug. 1.

The U.S. Department of Education continues to roll out guidance on how key elements of the transition will work.

On Jan. 28, for instance, the department made it clear that the eight states without waivers will no longer have to continue to set aside 20 percent of their Title I funding, which targets low-income students, for tutoring and school choice—a requirement under the NCLB law for schools that missed achievement targets.

Instead those eight—California, Iowa, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Washington, Wyoming, and Vermont—can come up with another plan to help schools that have missed targets for multiple years.

Those with waivers can focus just on their 5 percent lowest-performing schools, known as priority schools, and those with really big achievement gaps (another 10 percent deemed focus schools). States can either stick with their current lists of those schools or come up with a new list by March.

What’s more, during the transition period, the department will continue to enforce the requirement that 95 percent of students take state tests.

That requirement—a holdover from the NCLB law—remains in place under ESSA. But the new law allows states to decide what happens to schools that miss their participation target, while under NCLB, they were automatic failures. That new language won’t kick in, however, until the 2017-18 school year, when ESSA plans are approved and fully in place.

States also no longer have to continue to ensure that teachers meet the NCLB’s “highly qualified” definition, which calls for teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and state certification in the subject they’re teaching. That requirement isn’t part of the new law. But states must still implement the plans for equitable teacher distribution that they submitted earlier this year.

And, on Feb. 2, the administration came out with new guidance to help states and districts cut down on the number of tests students take.

The guidance issued includes ideas like ensuring tests are of high quality and worth taking, and makes it clear that states and districts can use federal money to support some of that work. For instance, states can use federal funds to conduct audits of their assessment systems or help educators better understand how test results can improve student learning.

Chris Minnich, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, noted that at least 39 states have already set to work on improving the quality of assessments or reducing unnecessary tests. “Those assessments must be meaningful and provide immediate feedback to students, teachers, and parents,” he said in a statement.

A version of this article appeared in the February 10, 2016 edition of Education Week as ESSA Transition Guidance Rolling Out

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