What to Know About the Every Student Succeeds Act

by Joseph C. Maya on Apr. 08, 2024

Other Education 

Summary: What to Know About the Every Student Succeeds Act

What is ESSA?

"The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), was signed into law on December 10, 2015 and took effect in the 2017-18 school year, and replaced and updated the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). The ESSA made many changes to educational policy, with provisions addressing a wide variety of issues, including testing, teacher quality, and low-performing schools. Moreover, it shifted much of the decision-making power from the Federal government to states and school districts."

ESSA Accountability System

"The ESSA eliminates the accountability system that punishes states if not enough students are proficient in reading and in math, a system which resulted in a culture of overtesting. Instead, under the ESSA, states create their own accountability systems, deciding for themselves how to fix failing schools and close achievement gaps, and then submit their plans to the Education Department with disclosure of the names of peerreviewers.

As for accountability goals, states pick their own big, long-term goal and smaller, interim goals, but these goals must address proficiency on tests, English-language proficiency, and graduation rates.

States must incorporate at least four indicators into their accountability systems which must include academic achievement, another academic indicator, English language proficiency, and an additional indicator of school quality. For high schools, graduation rates will also need to be factored in, which could take the place of a second academic indicator. The first three indicators must each carry substantial weight, and together, carry much more weight than the additional measure of school quality. Additionally, schools must set an expectation that all groups that are furthest behind close gaps in achievement and graduation rates."

Categories of Schools That Must Receive Support and Intervention

  • Comprehensive Support and Improvement Schools
  • Targeted Support and Improvement Schools
  • Additional Targeted Support and Improvement Schools

Comprehensive Support and Improvement Schools

"...includes the lowest performing 5% of Title I schools, as well as all high schools with graduation rates below 67%. For these schools, the districts must work with teachers and school staff to come up with an 'evidence plan.' States must then monitor the turnaround effort, and if the schools continue to fail to meet the criteria, after no more than four (4) years, the states must intervene."

Targeted Support and Improvement Schools

"...includes schools where one or more groups of students are consistently underperforming according to the ratings. These schools must develop 'comprehensive improvement plans.'"

Additional Targeted Support and Improvement Schools

"...includes schools that have one or more groups of students whose performance would place them in the bottom 5% of Title I schools. These schools, like those in the second category, must develop improvement plans that are approved by their district, and also must address resource inequities. Moreover, if these schools do not meet a set 'exit criteria' after a state-determined period of time, they will become Comprehensive Support and Improvement Schools."

Mandatory Reading and Math Testing

"In accordance with the ESSA, states must test reading and math in grades three (3) through eight (8), as well as in high school, and break out the data for whole schools as well as different 'subgroups' of students."

"The ESSA maintains the federal requirement for 95% participation in these tests, but with the permission of the U.S. Department of Education, up to seven (7) states can apply to implement local tests for a limited time. Also, Districts can use local, nationally recognized tests in high schools, such as the SAT or ACT, with state permission."

Students Learning the English Language

"Regarding English-language learners, under the ESSA, accountability moves from Title III to Title I, making them more of a priority. During these students’ first year, their test scores will not count towards a school’s rating, but they will still need to take assessments, the results of which will be publicly reported. After their first year, the states must incorporate English-language learners’ results for reading and math, using some measure of growth. In their third year, their proficiency scores will be treated like any other students’."

How Grants are Used

"The ESSA included a $1.6 billion block grant which consolidated dozens of programs, including some involving physical education, school counseling, education technology, and Advanced Placement. Districts that received more than $30,000 must spend at least 20% of the latter on at least one activity that helps students become wellrounded, and another 20% on at least one activity that keeps students safe and healthy."

The Preschool Development Grant Program

"The ESSA preserved the Preschool Development Grant program, which is jointly administered by the Department of Human Services and the Education Department, and is focused on program coordination, quality, and increasing access to early-childhood education."

Evidence-Based Research and Innovation Program

"The ESSA also created a new evidence-based research and innovation program, similar to the Investing in Innovation program, as well as reservations for gifted and talented education, Ready to Learn television, and arts education."

The Teacher and School Leader Innovation Program

"The Teacher and School Leader Innovation Program, provides grants to districts that want to experiment with performance pay and other teacher-quality improvement strategies."

Read more about the Every Student Succeeds Act and other aspects of education law in our education publication here: https://mayalaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/Education-Publication.pdf


Maya Murphy P.C. has proudly been included in the 2024 Edition of Best Law Firms®, ranked among the top firms in the nation. In addition, Managing Partner Joseph C. Maya has been selected to The Best Lawyers in America® 2024 for his work in Employment Law and Education Law in Connecticut. Recognition in Best Lawyers® is awarded to firms and attorneys who demonstrate excellence in the industry and is widely regarded by both clients and legal professionals as a significant honor.

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