The Every Student Succeeds Act
In December 2015, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) with bipartisan support. ESSA
is the latest reauthorization of America’s main federal education law, originally codified as the Elementary
and Secondary Education Act of 1965, and reauthorized in 2001 as the No Child Left Behind Act.
OREA has broken ESSA down into six key categories as they relate to Tennessee, and the summaries
on this page highlight the main changes for each area. Those wishing to delve deeper may click “Read
More” on any of the six categories for a more in-depth explanation.
Want a better understanding of how federal and state education law has developed over the past five
Please click on the “Education Law Timeline” infographic below. OREA has also created a “What Comes
Next?” infographic, which explores important ESSA-related changes to Tennessee education policy that
are scheduled to occur over the next several years.
Carolynn Polanchek, Associate Legislative Research Analyst
The federal Every Student Succeeds
Act grants more flexibility and control to the state and local levels – several of the requirements
of the No Child Left Behind Act that prompted states to apply for waivers have been written out of the
As under waivers, states have continued freedom to design their own accountability systems and manage
their low-performing schools. Furthermore, Every Student Succeeds specifically limits the U.S. Department
of Education’s authority in several key areas. The federal government can no longer set long-term goals
for student achievement, such as 100 percent proficiency; require the use of specific, federally prescribed
models for school improvement, such as School Improvement Grant turnaround models; or “influence, incentivize,
or coerce” states into adopting any specific standards.
No Child Left Behind’s testing
remains unchanged: states still test students in reading and math yearly in grades 3-8 and once in high
school, and less frequently in science. Every Student Succeeds permits states to either continue using
a year-end assessment or consolidate results from multiple tests throughout the year into a final score.
The federal government still requires schools and districts to test 95 percent of all student subgroups;
however, states may now decide how a student test participation rate of less than 95 percent is factored
into the accountability system. Additionally, states may set a target limit on school time spent testing,
as long as all federal testing requirements are met.
States are still required
to identify the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools, schools where subgroups of students perform
poorly, and schools with low graduation rates. Under Every Student Succeeds, schools and districts have
up to four
years to implement an improvement plan at the local level before states are required to take further
action. The new law allows Tennessee to continue using the Achievement School District and Innovation
Zones as school intervention strategies.
The federal requirement that all
teachers in core subjects be “highly qualified” has been repealed. Previously, the qualification involved
meeting education and licensure requirements, as well as demonstrating content knowledge.
Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Education is specifically prohibited from specifying or influencing
the factors used in teacher or principal evaluation systems. Finally, the Every Student Succeeds Act
gives states additional options for providing alternative teacher and principal certification.
Overall funding levels for Every Student
Succeeds remain similar to No Child Left Behind. Every Student Succeeds terminates School Improvement
Grants, used specifically for school turnaround – however, states are required to reserve more of their
Title I funding for the same purpose.
Funding for multiple individual programs – including physical education, gifted and talented, and school
counseling – has been consolidated into a $1.6 billion block grant. Furthermore, states and school districts
now have more flexibility in transferring funds from different titles of Every Student Succeeds.
Finally, the new law offers several new funding options. Up to 50 school districts nationwide may include
federal education money in weighted funding pilot programs that direct more money to schools with higher
numbers of disadvantaged students. Additionally, funding from several titles may be used in pay for
success programs, where private investors contribute to public projects and are only repaid if the projects
Seven states may participate in
a pilot program to develop innovative tests. Participating districts may give locally developed assessments
in place of state standardized tests, so that not every student takes the same test.
Up to 50 school districts in the nation may include federal education money in weighted funding pilot
programs. The pilot program “weights” the per-pupil funding districts give to schools, so that schools
receive more money for disadvantaged students.
Finally, federal education funding from several titles may be used in pay for success programs, which
allow private investors to contribute to public projects and recoup their initial investment if the
projects are successful.