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Every Student Succeeds Act


Winner of a 2016 Notable Document Award from the
National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and the
Legislative Research Librarians Staff Section

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 decades? 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    (615)401-7972


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 new law. 

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. 
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No Child Left Behind’s testing schedule 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.
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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. 
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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. 
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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 are successful. 
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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. 
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