Out With The NCLB, In With The ESSA (December 10, 2015)

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law today by President Obama, putting an end to No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  The ESSA shifts responsibility for school accountability from the federal government to the states. The new law is intended to provide states with more flexibility in determining solutions for underperforming schools than the prior “one-size-fits-all” approach of the NCLB that was often criticized.The ESSA repeals the “adequate yearly progress” requirements under NCLB and instead calls for each state to develop a statewide accountability system. Proponents of the ESSA state that it allows for more flexibility for states to develop solutions on a local level. For instance, states can set statewide challenging academic standards in reading and math in order to align them to the higher education opportunities in the state. The federal government cannot incentivize or require states or schools to use particular standards, like Common Core State Standards. While the U.S. Department of Education will retain some oversight, the states will be responsible for determining how accountability will be measured. Tests results and graduation rates will continue to carry more weight than subjective criteria in determining accountability.

Each state must develop and publish an annual state report card that includes a description of the accountability system, long-term goals and progress, system for differentiating schools, the names of the schools in need of support and improvement and the criteria that must be met for the schools to move off the improvement list. Additionally, each local educational agency must develop a report card annually that includes information on how students of the LEA or school are performing on assessments compared to other students in the state.

The ESSA specifies certain types of schools that will be classified as needing comprehensive support and improvement, including the lowest performing 5% of schools in the state, schools where 1/3 or more of students do not graduate, and schools where subgroups are consistently underperforming. Subgroups under the ESSA includes economically disadvantaged students, students from “major racial and ethnic groups” (not defined in the statute), children with disabilities and English language learners.

Students will still be tested from 3rd to 8th grades in math and reading on an annual basis and once in high school. They will also be tested in science three times between grades 3 and 12. Student achievement data by subgroups will still be reported annually. However, states will have more flexibility as to when and how the tests are administered. Students will be evaluated based on their progress toward achievement standards, rather than whether they meet achievement standards. School districts or schools with achievement gaps are required to identify evidence-based approaches to fixing the gap. Additionally, districts are required to use evidence-based interventions in schools that have consistently underperforming groups.

Additionally, there is an increased focus under the ESSA on providing access to high quality preschools. The “highly qualified” requirement for teachers has also been eliminated and instead teachers are only required to meet state standards. However, Illinois is already implementing its own teacher evaluation program under the Performance Evaluation Reform Act (PERA).

Currently, Illinois is one of many states with a waiver from the federal government from the requirements of the former NCLB, though the waiver will expire on August 1, 2016. As a result, the 2016-2017 school year will be when ESSA truly takes effect in Illinois and most states.


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