What is the Every Student Succeeds Act?

In December 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law, replacing what many consider the prescriptive requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) as the nation’s major federal law governing schools. ESSA is the most recent reauthorization of the federal government’s K-12 law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), passed in 1965 and considered the first major step towards ensuring all students, regardless of race, zip code, language proficiency or disability, have a quality education.

Under ESSA, much of the decision-making authority is left to states and local school districts; the law includes a number of meaningful levers that advocates can use to advance educational equity. The law allows states and local districts to develop plans addressing “challenging academic standards” (what children are required to learn), testing or assessments, school and district accountability (including school ratings) and special help for low-performing schools and specific groups of students. Today, over thirty states are working on submitting their state plans to their respective governors and the federal government by fall 2017. At this time, approximately fifteen states have already submitted their state plans outlining goals for how they will prepare all students for success in college and careers. Most ESSA plans will be effective in the 2017-18 school year.

How will ESSA affect students, parents, teachers and community members?,

ESSA affects students in the classroom, their teachers and parents, and community members in important ways as outlined below.

  • “Challenging Academic Standards” – Students are still pushed with “challenging academic standards” that are aligned with the demands of postsecondary education and work. These standards ensure students meet college entrance requirements and are prepared to choose any relevant career or technical education path.
  • Annual Statewide Assessments – Students are still required to take annual statewide assessments in grades 3-8 for reading and math, and once in each of the following grades for science: 3-5, 6-9 and 10-12. ESSA maintains previous requirements that states test 95 percent of students. By maintaining assessment requirements, teachers can compare how their students are performing compared to peers in other schools and districts.
  • Accountability Systems – As part of state accountability systems and public reporting, states must identify low-performing schools and have accountability systems that rate schools and include multiple measures of school and district performance. Such measures must include academic indicators and English proficiency and may include non-academic indicators (e.g., chronic absenteeism, access to advanced coursework). Under ESSA, parents and community members are empowered by better public reporting standards as they make decisions about what schools are best for their kids.

How is Georgia addressing ESSA?

Since December 2015, the Georgia Department of Education (DOE) has been reviewing the ESSA law, establishing working and advisory committees to begin drafting language and gathering initial feedback throughout the state. The state specifically sought input on things like: how to represent school performance in a public-friendly manner, ways to take a more innovative approach to testing, how to broaden the focus on social-emotional learning and place an emphasis on a well-rounded education, and general feedback on teacher preparation, recruitment, retention, development and personalized professional learning.

As the Georgia DOE finalizes the language in its state ESSA plan, they look forward to working with individuals who are interested in helping rewrite Georgia’s public K-12 education plan. Below are some key benchmarks and dates for Georgians:

  • Draft of Plan – On June 15th, Georgia DOE released a draft version of Georgia’s plan. You can read the plan here. Currently, Georgia DOE is looking for your input on the plan. You can provide feedback here. The last day to provide feedback is July 15th. If you have questions or want to learn more about advocating around ESSA please reach out to Steven Quinn at steven.quinn@gacan.org.
  • Submission of Final Plan The state plans to tentatively submit its state plan by September 18, 2017. The US Department of Education must approve the state plan no later than 120 days after submission.
  • Implementation of Plan – The 2016–17 school year will be a transition period; full implementation of the state’s ESSA plan will be effective in the 2017–18 school year.