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Every Student Succeeds Act

With ESSA on the Books, Here’s an Early Look at Trends in State K-12 Legislation

By Andrew Ujifusa — March 28, 2016 2 min read
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You’ve heard over and over that the Every Student Succeeds Act hands more policymaking power to states and districts. In many respects, officials in statehouses and education departments are still figuring out how they’ll proceed under ESSA, which gives states complete control over teacher evaluations and more power over how test scores and other factors figure into accountability.

But thanks to the eagle eyes of the National Conference of State Legislatures, we have at least some early clues about what legislators are thinking about in the new policy and political environment, at least when it comes to standards, assessment, accountability, and other matters. Here’s a look at the total volume of this “college and career readiness standards legislation” in 2016 as of March 8:

It’s important to stress that as of Monday, only 10 state legislatures have wrapped up their 2016 sessions as of Monday. (Another four states don’t have regular sessions this calendar year, and two states, Arkansas and North Carolina, have yet to begin their regular sessions, and another two, Louisiana and Minnesota, started their sessions after March 8, the last time NCSL’s tracker was updated.) However, many sessions are getting close to the finish line, and we’re past the bill-introduction deadline in the majority of states, according to Stateside Associates, a lobbying firm.

According to NCSL, the majority of the bills, about 500, deal with assessment in some fashion. Many of the bills deal with multiple topics. The number of bills dealing with assessment and accountability, for example, is 149 so far—how states factor assessment into accountability, remember, is one of several hot topics under ESSA. But that’s down from the 180 such bills NCSL counted for 2015 sessions.

As for other high-profile issues? So far in 2016, there have been 34 bills to revoke a state’s adoption of the common core. That number is down from 49 such bills in 2015. The number of bills that would allow parents to opt their students out of state exams, meanwhile, has held relatively steady, with 48 such bills introduced last year and 46 introduced so far this year.

Remember, the 2016 sessions won’t necessarily be the only chance lawmakers have to decide how to change state policy before ESSA starts. State plans for ESSA will have to be submitted and approved before the start of the 2017-18 school year, when life under the new law well and truly begins. The step-by-step timeline for states’ transition to the law is not entirely clear yet, but state lawmakers and others still have significant time to consider how they want to exercise their newfound power under ESSA.

Click the link in the second paragraph for more data about the volume and nature of bills introduced.

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