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Every Student Succeeds Act

Your One-Stop Shop for ESSA Info on Teachers, Testing, Money, and More

By Andrew Ujifusa — September 21, 2017 5 min read
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For teachers, parents, principals, and others, the Every Student Succeeds Act is no longer on the horizon. Now it’s in their schools.

Yes, ESSA has officially taken effect this school year. All but four states have turned in their plans for the education law’s implementation to the federal government—and some states’ plans have already gotten approved by the U.S. Department of Education. But there’s a decent chance you’re still gathering information and learning about ESSA.

To help you with that, we’ve compiled a big, fancy grab-bag stuffed with resources about the law that replaced the No Child Left Behind Act. Not everything is new: ESSA still requires those annual English/language arts and math tests once a year in grades 3-8 and once in high school. But what is new? Check it out below.

The Big Picture

• First, see this general overview of ESSA’s key elements for struggling schools, long-term academic goals, and more. You can also head over to our big-tent ESSA page for all our coverage.

• Do you need that ESSA overview in living color? We’ve got a video for that.

You can also watch our catch-all ESSA video by clicking here. And for another ESSA video, check out a discussion of keys to ESSA readiness, or watch it below.

• In general, what has the move from NCLB to ESSA looked like? One word: tricky.

For Teachers and Principals

• See ESSA’s potential impact on curriculum here. And the new law could also impact the place of science education in schools, as well as literacy.

What does it mean under ESSA to have a strong teaching workforce? The law has more flexibility on that front, but not necessarily a ton of clarity. One thing’s clear: ESSA does away with Washington’s previous involvement in teacher evaluations.

• On the same theme: What does it mean to be an “ineffective teacher” under ESSA? States have been grappling with that question ever since the law passed.

• Although ESSA now allows states to set aside money for programs tailored to teacher-leaders and principals, the budget fight in Congress leaves the fate of funding for those activities up in the air.

• Here’s one more: For an example of how one state dealt directly with educators during the ESSA planning process, check out our co-worker Daarel Burnette II’s story from earlier this year.

Money Matters

• ESSA’s “big block grant” (also known as Title IV) can cover a wide variety of school programs from ed-tech to student health. It’s one of the most closely watched parts of the law. Here’s how states plan to handle that money, assuming they get any.

• The law itself doesn’t dish out funding to schools, but ESSA does change the flow of that money and what gets funded.

Shifting into full throttle for ESSA takes capacity and cash. Are states up to it? Recent evidence suggests some states could struggle in the transition.


Remember the innovative assessment pilot in ESSA? It seems a lot of people have either forgotten about it, or don’t have it high on their list of top priorities.

High schools have some new flexibility when it comes to testing under ESSA. But flexibility doesn’t mean carte blanche.

• Earlier this year, there was a flare-up over whether schools could use science tests to evaluate schools under ESSA. Click here for the answer.

• Over 18 months, our coworker Catherine Gewertz analyzed a possible shift away from standards-based tests in favor of exams like the ACT and SAT. Her article proved prescient.

English-Language Learners

• One of the groups most strongly impacted by ESSA’s changes is students learning English. Check out a recent framework for evaluating state plans on this front by Corey Mitchell.

• The law puts a new emphasis on proficiency tests for English-language learners—it’s a key part of requirements for state accountability plans. But the consequences of that move haven’t been fully hashed out yet. One possibility? More testing for those students.

• For a recent ESSA fight over this issue in Florida, click here.

A New Way to Measure School Quality

• Those English/language arts and math tests are NCLB holdovers, but ESSA’s mothers and fathers in Congress requires schools to be measured in a new, non-testing way through “school quality” measures like climate surveys and chronic absenteeism.

• In fact, chronic absenteeism gets the nod as a good indicator through which to judge schools under ESSA, according to a recent report highlighted by our coworker Evie Blad.

•Picking out the right school quality measure isn’t all smores and puppies. Data collection on these new measures is just one concern as ESSA gets going in schools.

Special Education

• ESSA is different than the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which Congress is overdue to reauthorize. But ESSA still has implications for special education.

Graduation Rates

• We recently highlighted how a new provision in ESSA could decrease graduation rates in at least some states.

Early Learning

• As with special education, ESSA isn’t a law about early learning the way Head Start is. But that doesn’t mean advocates for early learners haven’t pushed their issue as states developed their ESSA blueprints.

ESSA authorized a $250 million federal funding stream for early-learning programs, but remember, Congress can still make budget decisions down the road impacting that dollar figure.

Political Squabbling

• Just because states get more power under ESSA doesn’t mean everyone in each state sings kumbaya. See a recent look at governors like Republicans Scott Walker, in Wisconsin, and Larry Hogan, in Maryland, fighting with state education officials over ESSA plans.

ESSA was a big topic of discussion in state legislatures this year.

Can’t Get Enough ESSA? (But Really, Who Can?)

• Check out our series of webinars on a variety of ESSA topics, from social-emotional learning to how K-12 companies have approached the law.

• In February, we held an “ESSA Summit” that included Education Week reporters answering your ESSA questions live. Check out a compilation of that event.

• We’ve even got ESSA: The Book. Or an e-book at least.

Special thanks to Briana Brockett-Richmond at the Education Week Library for helping us put this blog post together.

Photo: President Barack Obama, flanked by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., left, and the committee’s ranking member Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., signs the Every Student Succeeds Act in December 2015. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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