Special Report
Every Student Succeeds Act

Scrambling to Fill Out ESSA’s Policy Details

By The Editors — December 30, 2016 2 min read

With just months to go until the nation’s overhauled K-12 law goes into effect, state policymakers are still scrambling to firm up the infrastructure for their education systems, under the new blueprint laid out in the Every Student Succeeds Act.

They’re doing it at a time of political change and policy uncertainty at the national level, with a new team taking the field at the White House—and at the U.S. Department of Education—that may have its own ideas about how details of the new law play out on the ground.

There’s plenty about ESSA that remains familiar from the No Child Left Behind Act, the previous version of the half-century-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act. That includes mandatory state testing at certain grade levels, tagging and intervening in low-performing schools, and federal sign-off on state accountability plans.

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But the new law, passed with bipartisan support in Congress just over a year ago, also offers the prospect of new flexibility and a lighter federal rein on how states shape the specifics in such contentious areas as teacher evaluation and the proper weighting of indicators that go into measuring school quality.

Quality Counts 2017 looks at the steps states are taking to turn ESSA’s blueprint into a finished structure—and the challenges of doing it by the time the bell rings for the 2017-18 school year.

Grading the States

Providing context for that process, this 21st edition of Quality Counts paints a somewhat stagnant picture of the nation’s schools overall, with spot improvements and declines in particular states.

For the third year in a row, the nation receives a C grade—a score of 74.2 out of 100—on the Education Week Research Center’s basket of key indicators.

The national grade and the grades for individual states are based on three custom Research Center indices that look at the role of education in promoting an individual’s chance for success over the course of a lifetime; overall school spending and equity in funding across districts; and academic performance, including changes over time and poverty-based gaps.

For the third straight year, Massachusetts takes first place, receiving a B grade and a score of 86.5, followed by five other states that received B grades with slightly lower point scores. Nevada was ranked lowest in the nation overall, receiving a D with a score of 65—one of three states to receive D scores overall.

But while 34 states fell into the C-minus to C-plus range, several posted notable upticks this year, including Montana, which gained 1.3 points—the biggest jump nationally. And New Hampshire, which gained about a point in this year’s report, edged into the ranks of the top five states.

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