The Every Student Succeeds Act


What About ESSA Is Different From No Child Left Behind?

What does ESSA do for US children?. LWA/Dan Tardif, Blend Images collection via Getty Images

We all know that 2001's No Child Left Behind was a major topic of school news for almost two decades. No Child Left Behind is now replaced by the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA.) Take a look at the following slides to see how ESSA handles hot-button education issues like (Common Core and standardized tests) and new approaches to closing the achievement gap between US public school students.


What ESSA Says About Standardized Testing

What about standardized tests?
How Test Data Will Be Used Will Change. Hero Images via Getty Images

The increase in the number of standardized tests ushered in by No Child Left Behind created a huge backlash against testing from both parents and teachers.  Critics claimed that there were too many tests, and the one-size-fits-all nature of standardized tests couldn't possibly accurately compare the diverse groups of US students. At the same time, politicians and public funding accountability groups continued to push testing in an effort to measure how well schools and teachers were performing.  

ESSA still requires federal testing in grades 3 through 8, and at least once in high school.  Data and scores of tests must be compiled for each school and different groups within schools that are considered to be higher risk.  

ESSA does ease up on testing in some ways.  At least seven states will be allowed to pilot locally designed and chosen regional standardized tests. Oregon is piloting a work portfolio to replace the high school test requirement. States may also substitute ACT or SAT for high school standardized tests. 

States will take more responsibility in measuring whether or not a school is failing or successful, so states will be able to include some other measures of student achievement in addition to standardized test data.


Common Core State Standards Under ESSA

States Will Get To Choose Standards. Klaus Vedfelt, Taxi Collection, via Getty Images

Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are one of the most talked about changes in US public education.  US public schools began with complete local control, leading to a decentralized and non-uniform system.  The push from state governors to create an agreed on a set of high standards used by all states set off massive controversy, founded on fears of a national curriculum and loss of local control over learning.

This was compounded when several federal education grants demanded that states show proof of adopting in whole or in part CCSS.  Still, the US Department of Education has always held that states must adopt challenging standards, such as the CCSS, or something else equally as challenging in order to receive federal funds.   ESSA now brings some clarity to the Fed's role on standards.  The act includes language that states must adopt challenging standards, such as the CCSS or an equally rigorous set of standards — but ESSA adds some weight to this by forbidding the federal government from requiring or even encouraging states to pick any one set of standards, even CCSS.


Changes to Failing Schools, from Defining to Fixing

How To Identify and Improve Failing Schools. Vicky Kasala, Digital Vision Collections via Getty Images

No Child Left Behind used test data to decide if a school was failing or not.  Struggling schools faced several different federal mandated requirements to improve or face punitive measures.  

ESSA gives states guidance and tools on how to decide if a school is failing or not.  States get to choose goals for improvement like improved tests scores, graduation rates, and closing achievement gaps.  States will need to evaluate schools at least once every three years.   States and districts will monitor failing schools and the programs designed to improve them.


English Language, Dual Language, and Native American Language

Girl writing on chalkboard
More Federal Oversite for English Language Programs. XinXInXIng via Getty Images

A major priority is given in ESSA for funding and measuring the success of teaching students whose primary language is not English.  The funding and guidelines for English language programs have shifted from its own section to the Title 1 section, which has a much higher level of accountability.  

This is one area where ESSA seems to be taking more federal responsibility and control, rather than shifting it to states and school districts.

In particular, ESSA encourages the use of Universal Design Learning (UDL) in developing tests. UDL are teaching strategies that present material in a  variety of ways in order to reach all students. While UDL strategies work for all students, they are designed to reach students who experience learning disabilities and differences, including English language learners.

A UDL lesson might include a video presentation, textbook reading, and a computer simulation activity to teach material. The variety of formats makes it possible for all students to understand and apply the material. ESSA states that federal dollars can also be used to buy technology for UDL strategies.


A New Emphasis on Pre-K

Look for more preschool opportunities for kids. Caiaimage/Robert Daly via Getty Image

 No Child Left Behind didn't say much about pre-K programs.  ESSA creates a permanent Preschool Development Grant designed to increase access nationwide to quality preschool programs.  This grant is to be run by the Department of Health and Social Service while sharing the actual oversite of programs with the Department of Education.

Parents can expect to see ​the expansion of Head Start or similar high-quality pre-K programs meant to help prepare children for kindergarten. These programs do target children from low-income households or other groups that are at risk for falling behind. 

The expansion of high-quality pre-K programs may also spur competition among private pre-K. ESSA encourages paying pre-K teachers wages comparable to that of K-3 grade teachers and seeks to hire more pre-K teachers with a strong education background. By raising the bar for public programs, private programs may decide to compete by improving pay and having higher standards for pre-K teachers. 

If you have a child who qualifies for a public program, ESSA should make it easier for you to find and access these high-quality programs. If you plan to enroll your child in a private, non-public pre-k program, you will want to make sure that the program does make an effort to prepare children for school.


Teacher Evaluations and Qualifications

Teachers Wonder What They Will Be Evaluated On. Yellow Dog Productions, Image Bank Collections via Getty Imag

No Child Left Behind paved the way for teacher work evaluations to include more and more proof of student success.  This led to teacher evaluations and even their pay being connected to student test scores.  Teacher unions fought hard against this out of concern that test scores can be influenced by many factors out of a teacher's control.  ESSA takes away much of the federal pushing for test scores to be used in teacher evaluations.

Another concern was the narrow way in which No Child Left Behind determined "Highly Qualified" teacher status. The intent of the Highly Qualified requirement was meant to make sure that teachers in the neediest schools had a strong educational background. Under ESSA, teachers in these schools must meet "all state certification and licensure requirements."

This is another return to state-level control over federal control. States may decide to keep the same type of evaluations ​or adopt another framework. This will lead to local policy developments of teacher evaluations. Parents will want to be aware of the ways in which evaluations will affect school quality. The ways that teachers are evaluated can affect how they teach and teacher turnover rates. Parents and community members will want to watch this policy issue.


Summary and Themes

Mom and school age daughter keep up with new developments. Layalnd Masuda/Moments via Getty Images

ESSA and No Child Left Behind were major updates to the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act — the federal legislation that aims to give every US child a high-quality education, no matter family income, race or background.  No Child Left Behind created a greater federal control with strictly defined measures of what school equality should look like. ESSA seems to be taking a step back and letting states and school districts decide how to give each child a solid public education.

Parent will want to keep abreast of educational policy and rules in their state and local districts. Along with ESSA, the Trump administration has also signaled a desire to return to more local control. Local controlled public schools are a strong part of our nation's history. Their success has always relied on community involvement. Guidance and involvement from local parents and communities will ensure that local schools meet the needs of children and community.

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Article Sources

  • "ESSA Removes "HQT" Requirements – Immediately!" ESSA Removes "HQT" Requirements – Immediately! Oregon Education Association, 23 May 2016. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.
  • Samuels, Christina A. "ESSA Spotlights Strategy to Reach Diverse Learners." Education Week. N.p., 31 Oct. 2016. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.
  • U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Non-Regulatory Guidance Early Learning in the Every Student Succeeds Act: Expanding Opportunities to Support our Youngest Learners, Washington, D.C., 2016.