NCLB Is No More—Major Provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act

A bipartisan rejection of the deeply flawed No Child Left Behind Act was celebrated at the White House on Thursday, as President Obama wasted no time in signing the successor to NCLB just a day after final passage by Congress. The new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will be known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten attended the signing ceremony along with other AFT leaders and had this to say about the impact of the legislation as well as the significant work that remains to be done at the state and local level to make effective use of it:

For nearly 15 years, we’ve been treading water as top-down, test-and-sanction-based reforms failed to help all kids succeed. Parents, students and educators came together with one message: “Enough with the testing fixation. Let’s bring back the joy of learning.” Legislators on both sides of the aisle listened, worked with one another and delivered.

This law will usher in the most sweeping, positive changes to public education we’ve seen in two decades. It keeps the best of the original intent of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, targeting funding to support the disadvantaged schools and children who need it most. It significantly reduces the stakes and the amount of testing. It ensures that the federal government can no longer require these tests as part of teacher evaluation. And it makes public education a joint responsibility.

Our work is only beginning, and our members are ready to roll up their sleeves at the state level, partner with community, and send the message that the policies of No Child Left Behind, waivers and Race to the Top should be abandoned, not replicated.

This is the reset we’ve been fighting for in federal education policy. Today, we celebrate. Tomorrow, we get back to work.

Summarizing this legislation of more than 1,000 pages is a challenge, but our national AFT legislative staff has helpfully compiled this rundown of key provisions of the new law:

Major Provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act

Standards: Largely mirrors current law; states must have challenging academic standards in reading, math and science; must be aligned to postsecondary public higher education entrance requirements in the state and to relevant career and technical education standards.

Assessments: Same as current law—mandatory single state standardized tests in grades 3-8, once in high school in reading and math, and once per grade spans for science. And:

High school flexibility: Can use a nationally recognized test (like ACT, SAT or AP) for high school assessment requirement. Must be used districtwide. Subject to state approval and federal peer review.

Pilot program for competency-based assessments (project-based assessments) to be used in lieu of state standardized assessments. Seven states initially, similar to NY performance standards consortium or to the current New Hampshire pilot program.

Audit of state assessments to reduce redundant, unaligned and poor-quality tests.

Allows states to avoid “double testing” middle school students in math—those enrolled in advanced level math can take that math test for the purposes of accountability, and don’t have to also take the grade level math test as well.

1 percent cap on students overall in the state who can take an alternative assessment and have such assessments count as proficient. No district caps. No waivers allowed.

Opt-out: Includes statement that nothing in law will pre-empt state and local laws on opt-out.

Maintains 95 percent participation requirement, but state gets to determine how this requirement is factored into its overall accountability system. A state that has a strong opt-out movement can minimize the participation rate requirement so that it has a negligible impact on school accountability systems.

Accountability: States set goals for reading and math achievement, and for graduation rates. Must include improvement. For graduation rates, can use a five- or six-year rate, but if so, goal must be higher than for four-year rate.State develops accountability system that must include each of these indicators:

1.Proficiency in reading and math

2.Graduation rates for high schools

3.English language proficiency

4.For elementary and middle schools, student growth or another indicator that is valid, reliable and statewide

5.At least one other indicator of school quality or success, such as measures of safety, student engagement or educator engagement

System must have substantial weights on indicators 1-4 above. In aggregate, indicators 1-4 must have much greater weight than indicator 5.

Includes prohibitions on secretary of education prescribing weights of indicators or goals in accountability system.

Identification and interventions: Much more flexibility, no school closings or prescribed interventions.

Using the state-developed accountability system that includes all indicators, at least once every three years beginning in 2017-18, states have to identify and ensure that districts provide comprehensive support and improvement to: (1) the 5 percent lowest-performing schools; (2) schools with a graduation rate of less than 67 percent; and (3) after a number of years of targeted support and improvement at the local level, schools in which one or more subgroups are consistently significantly underperforming.

Targeted support and improvement: Schools with significantly underperforming subgroups (those with subgroups performing as poorly as the lowest performing schools in the state) must develop improvement plans with stakeholders, based on all indicators. The plans must include evidence-based strategies, identify and address resource inequities, and must be approved and monitored by district.

Comprehensive support and improvement: Districts with identified schools must develop improvement plans with stakeholders, based on all indicators. The plans must include evidence-based strategies and a resource equity component; must be approved by the district and state; and must be monitored and reviewed by the state. Students at such schools are eligible for public school choice.

If after four years of comprehensive support and improvement, schools don’t meet state-defined criteria for exit, state takes more rigorous action, which can include changes to school-level operations.

Seven percent of a state’s allocation of Title I funds must be set aside and spent on schools implementing targeted and comprehensive support and improvement.

Teacher evaluation: Prohibition on secretary prescribing terms or conditions of teacher evaluation systems.

Maintains current paraprofessional certification requirements.

English Learners: Title III is maintained as own program and funding stream for English learners, though accountability for this group is moved to Title I. States must standardize exit and entry requirements for English learners. Can appropriately delay inclusion of English learners’ test scores in accountability systems while they are first learning English, and can include former English learners for 4 years as part of ELL subgroup.

Equity in the Title I formula maintained (except for a tiny adjustment for outlying areas equaling $12 million).

No portability or vouchers.

Maintenance of effort requirements are maintained, ensuring that states contribute their fair share of funding to schools.

Collective bargaining protections in Titles I and II. Title II is new, will cover state-developed evaluation plans done with Title II money.

Maintains annual reporting of disaggregated data by subgroup.

Flexibility for equitable per pupil funding: New pilot program initially open to 50 districts; after three years, more. States that have equitable state and local funding systems can have flexibility for how they distribute Title I funds within districts. Will have to consider actual staff salaries, not district averages.

Reporting requirements: States must report information about actual per-pupil expenditures, student discipline rates, and resource equity indicators such as access to preschool and advanced coursework.

Title II: Streamlines state and local use of funds. Optional set-aside for school leadership. No needs assessment, but consultation with stakeholders is required.

Teacher Incentive Fund (renamed Teacher and School Leader Incentive Fund), Supporting Effective Educator Development, Literacy Education, and Civics Education State Grants are all allowable uses of a set-aside.

Class size is an allowable use of Title II, as is professional development, professional compensation, teacher prep academies, mentoring and induction, etc.

Title IV-A: New formula grant to replace a number of smaller programs including education technology, physical education and Advanced Placement. Distributed to states via a formula in which poverty is weighted more heavily than population; states must perform a needs assessment and money goes into three pots:

Safe and healthy schools: minimum 20 percent

Well-rounded education: minimum 20 percent

Effective use of technology: no minimum, but a cap of 15 percent for infrastructure and devices

Charters: Strengthens accountability and transparency. Keeps community involvement, requires financial audits, and secretary must address findings of the Government Accountability Office studies. Priorities for dropout recovery and for addressing racial diversity.

Magnets: Money can be used for transportation and for between-district magnets. Both charter and magnet authorizations up 18 percent.

Keeps Promise Neighborhoods and community schools: 10 community school grants per appropriation; three promise neighborhood grants per appropriation.

Other programs that stay: Project SERV (School Emergency Response to Violence), Gifted and Talented, Arts in Education, Ready to Learn, and Family Engagement.

New early childhood program authorized at $250 million annually and for the purposes of coordination, alignment and access. Housed in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Transferability: Will allow states to transfer up to 100 percent of Titles II and IV-A funds between each other, and will allow up to 100 percent of Titles II and IV-A funding to be transferred into Title I, III, and V programs.

Transition from NCLB to new law: 2015-16: everything the same; waivers end in August 2016; 2016-17: base year for everything; 2017-18: use accountability system, start making identifications.