The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

What Is The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)?


In 2015, President Obama signed new legislation called the Every Student Succeeds Act. This new legislation replaced the No Child Left Behind Act created in 2002.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was created by the United States Congress in response to issues in public schools across the nation. However, the NCLB act was repealed since standardized tests were used as the sole indicator of student academic achievement.

Amongst other things, the ESSA devolved power in public education policymaking from the federal to the state education department. Even though standardized tests are still necessary, they are no longer the primary yardstick for measuring student performance.

In this article, we will examine the goals and objectives of the ESSA legislation and what it means for stakeholders in public educational agencies in the US.

From The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) To ESSA


President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) into law in 1965, believing that “complete educational opportunity” should be “our primary national aim.” ESEA has always been a civil rights statute.

ESEA provided districts serving low-income students with new funds, federal subsidies for textbooks and library books, financing for special education centers, and college scholarships for low-income students.

In addition, the bill endowed state and local educational agencies with federal government subsidies to enhance the quality of primary and secondary education. Its goal was to ensure that all students have access to a rigorous and rewarding secondary education.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was presented in the Senate on April 30, 2015, by Lamar Alexander (R-TN). President Obama signed ESSA into law on December 10, 2015.

No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) which was passed into federal law in 2002 was replaced and modernized by ESSA, which also reauthorized the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Objectives of the ESSA Act


ESSA’s primary objective, as written under Title I of the act, is to ensure that all children receive a quality education in public schools. It provides states with the primary responsibility for determining how schools account for student success.

This encompasses the academic performance of historically disadvantaged pupils belonging to one or more of four important groups:

  • Students living in need
  • Pupils of color
  • Students who get specialized instruction
  • Those with little English proficiency

Under the provisions of ESSA, each state develops an education plan for its schools within a federally-established framework. The legislation allows parents and guardians to have input on these plans. Parents can make inputs under special arrangements like an IEP meeting.

Each state’s strategy must include the following:

  • Academic standards/ regulatory requirements
  • Annual testing
  • School responsibility
  • Objectives for academic success
  • Plans for assisting and rehabilitating low-performing schools
  • State and municipal status reports

This is not an exhaustive list of state and school district criteria. But they have the greatest immediate effect on children who learn and think differently.

Additionally, ESSA funds literacy initiatives and other awards. And it promotes innovation in how schools educate children.


Annual Testing

ESSA in every state requires testing, but the type and number of tests vary according to the child’s grade level.

Students in grades 3 through 8, as well as in high school, must take reading and math tests once a year. Also, children must be tested in science once in grade school, once in middle school, and once in high school. Moreover, states must provide accommodations on these tests and include them in IEP meetings or 504 plans for students with special needs.

Students with cognitive disabilities are offered alternate tests, which are different from the state’s general education tests. The state’s general education tests only allow 1 percent of students to take alternate tests. A limited number of students with cognitive disabilities take these tests while other students sit for the statewide assessment.


Objectives for Academic Achievement

States must establish student accomplishment targets. This requires states to provide a method for measuring whether or not kids are making progress. These objectives are essential for kids who struggle more than others, such as those who need special compensatory education assistance.

The state must establish “ambitious” targets for children who are often the most behind. For instance, the state may establish a long-term objective to increase special education students’ high school graduation rates.

And to achieve this long-term objective, there may be shorter-term methods for gauging success. This may aid in ensuring that pupils are on track.

These objectives are intended to assist struggling pupils in narrowing the achievement gap with their peers. Again, these objectives must be included in every ESSA state strategy.


School Accountability Systems

The ESSA mandates that states hold schools responsible for student achievement. This implies that each state is responsible for implementing a strategy to identify failing schools.

Certain elements must be included in a state’s accountability system. ESSA requires each state to choose at least five methods for measuring school performance. The first four academic indications are required:

  • Academic achievement
  • Academic progress
  • English language proficiency
  • High school graduation rates

The fifth measure must be a method for measuring school quality or student growth, and states may choose many methods. States may measure any of the following:

  • Kindergarten preparedness
  • Advanced courses access and completion
  • College Preparation
  • Discipline rates
  • Persistent absenteeism

Under ESSA, the state is required to employ at least five indicators to assess how well schools serve children. However, the most significant academic markers are the first four.


State and Municipal Status Reports

As a component of ESSA, each state and school district must provide school report cards. This implies that governments and local education districts must make school performance information accessible.

Additionally, the following must be reported:

  • Test score results
  • Rates of high school graduation
  • Funding information for schools
  • Educator qualifications

The report cards also include information on “subgroups” of pupils, i.e., pupils of color, children living in poverty, English language learners, and students with special needs. The report cards indicate to parents how well or inadequately schools serve their children. A state must inform parents if it recognizes a troubled school or subgroup.


Plans for Rehabilitating Lowest-Performing Schools

ESSA compels states to identify underperforming schools. States must attempt to improve student achievement in schools identified. Usually, the schools are placed in two categories

  1. Comprehensive support and improvement schools: these are the state’s lowest-performing institutions.
  2. Targeted support and improvement schools: These are schools where specific student groups underperform persistently.

Once a school is deemed “struggling” under ESSA, states and school districts must develop strategies to assist the school in getting back on track. According to the legislation, these plans must rely on empirically based teaching and practices.

The Place of Parents and Guidance in ESSA


ESSA mandates states to include parents and guardians in the process of school accountability. This contribution ensures that schools prioritize vulnerable students.

There are two primary involvement opportunities. First, parents and caregivers may provide public comment on the state plans for ESSA.

They may also provide feedback on the attainment, accountability, and struggling children’s objectives during IEPs or a manifestation meeting.

Second, they have input about state reporting requirements. This helps guarantee that the public is aware of the state plan, common core state standards, and the performance of schools.

A Special Education Attorney Can Help You Understand ESSA


Brian R. Sciacca, Attorney at Law, is available to answer any questions you may have about ESSA or special education processes in California. We can help you clarify your position under the special education laws, evaluate your options and represent you in your negotiations with the school district or in court. Start getting your child’s educational needs met by contacting us via our website for a free consultation.