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Everything You Need to Know About the Every Student Succeeds Act

ESSASigningFor the latest ESSA news, consult “Federal Flash,” the Alliance’s five-minute video series on important developments in education policy in Washington, DC.

On December 10, 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), legislation to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and replace the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). ESSA provides support to high schools where one-third or more of students do not graduate. It also provides support to schools with groups of traditionally underserved students who consistently demonstrate low performance. The law requires data on student achievement and graduation rates to be reported as well as action in response to that data. However, unlike NCLB, states, districts, and schools will determine what support and interventions are implemented.

ESSA provides states and districts with a great degree of flexibility and responsibility. Developing such state-set policies that relate to “n-size,” achievement and graduation goals, timelines for progress, and school improvement strategies warrants the strong involvement of diverse communities and education experts. The Alliance is committed to working in partnership with civil rights organizations and others to support states in ensuring an equity-driven implementation of this bill.

Everything You Need to Know About the Every Student Succeeds Act

The Alliance has created a series of bite-sized materials—both print and video—that provides concise but comprehensive analyses of several key areas within ESSA.


Accountability: Under ESSA, states are accountable for focusing resources on low-performing schools and traditionally underserved students who consistently demonstrate low academic performance.

Assessments: ESSA supports states in implementing high-quality assessments by providing new assessment flexibility, funding, and a new pilot program. These new policies will support teachers in using assessments to foster deeper learning among students, including the ability to master core academic content, think critically and solve complex problems, and communicate effectively.

High Schools: Under ESSA, states and districts are responsible for supporting and improving the quality of low-performing high schools.

Teachers and School Leaders: Under ESSA, states and districts are responsible for improving the quality and effectiveness of teachers, principals, and other school leaders in increasing student academic achievement.





Title I Funding for High Schools: ESSA changes the requirements for how local educational agencies (LEAs) may allocate Title I funds to allow more high schools to receive funding.





In partnership with the NAACP, the Alliance developed the following four fact sheets, which the NAACP distributed at its 2016 annual convention:


Advanced Course Work: ESSA offers states and districts several opportunities to provide students with advanced course work, including Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, dual- and concurrent-enrollment programs, and early college high schools.


Parent and Community Engagement: To provide opportunities for meaningful parent engagement, ESSA requires schools that receive federal funding for underserved students, under Title I and other programs, to develop parent and family engagement policies.


Reducing Incidents of School Discipline: As the implementation of ESSA proceeds, the overuse of exclusionary discipline practices in schools, and the role such practices play in perpetuating the school-to-prison pipeline, continue to garner national attention. By promoting indicators that measure school climate and discipline practices, ESSA pushes states and districts to use data to identify and support schools with high rates of discipline referrals, disaggregate this data for subgroup accountability, and track the success of new discipline practices.


Ensuring Every Student Matters: The academic needs of large numbers of African American and Latino students, students from low-income families, English language learners, students with disabilities, and other groups of traditionally underserved students in twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia could be ignored based on the way states count students from those subgroups. As a result, schools in those states might not be required to provide the resources that these subgroups of traditionally underserved students need to succeed.

Linked Learning: Under ESSA, assessments must include measures that assess higher-order thinking skills and understanding and may be partially delivered in the form of portfolios, projects, or extended-performance tasks.


Deeper Learning: Under ESSA, states are required to adopt challenging academic content standards and demonstrate that those standards align with entrance requirements for credit-bearing course work in the state’s public system of higher education and with relevant state career and technical education (CTE) standards. By adopting challenging academic standards that ask students to think critically and analyze complex problems, states can help develop deeper learning.


Digital Learning: Under ESSA, states and districts may use federal Title II funds to support training and professional development for teachers, principals, and other school leaders on how to effectively integrate technology into curricula and instruction. ESSA also includes a competitive grant program to support professional development to improve classroom instruction specifically for English learners. Grant funds from this program may be used to support the use of technology-based programs that are effective in increasing student academic achievement and instruction of English learners.


Personalized Learning: ESSA supports states and districts in implementing personalized learning, a student-centered approach designed to help all students develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities that will prepare them for college, a career, and life. Personalized learning emphasizes

  1. developing trusted and caring relationships between teachers and students;
  2. connecting learning to the real world;
  3. linking curriculum to students’ interests, strengths, and aspirations;
  4. providing students individually targeted instruction, practice, and support where they are struggling; and
  5. creating more flexible learning environments.

Personalized learning requires those working in schools to rethink the ways they teach and support students in their learning.


Rural Schools: ESSA offers a number of opportunities to support rural education by providing states and local districts more flexibility while preserving the critical role of the federal government.


High School Dropout Prevention ESSA includes several provisions that support state and district efforts to prevent students from dropping out of high school and reengage out-of-school youth.


American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian Students ESSA includes several provisions that target the education needs of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students.


Teacher Preparation ESSA offers several opportunities for states, districts, and not-for-profit and for-profit entities to invest in high-quality innovative teacher preparation and support new educators as they begin their careers.


Additional Information

Recommendations for Non-Regulatory Guidance for ESSA: In May 2016, the Alliance offered comments, recommendations, and accompanying rationale to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) as ED drafts non-regulatory guidance to assist states, districts, and other grantees to implement ESSA. Read the recommendations.

Recommendations on ESSA Implementation: During a January 11 public meeting on ESSA, Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise urged the U.S. Department of Education to clarify the law’s focus on traditionally underserved students and the nation’s lowest-performing high schools. Read Wise’s statement and recommendations.

Recommendations for Implementation of Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act: Recommendations submitted by the Alliance for Excellent Education to the U.S. Department of Education regarding several regulations to ensure every student has the opportunity to graduate from high school ready for college, a career, and citizenship. Download the recommendations.

Regulatory Recommendations for Supporting Deeper Learning in ESSA: Recommendations from the Alliance for Excellent Education and Learning Policy Institute on how ESSA regulations can create deeper learning opportunities for all students and ensure that all students graduate from high school fully prepared for college, a career, and citizenship. Download the recommendations.

Coalition Letters on Deeper Learning: Joint letters from organizations supporting deeper learning to the U.S. Department of Education on how ESSA implementation can support state and local innovation and to promote equity in opportunities for deeper learning. Download letter one (general). Download letter two (accountability).

Grad Nation Letter Urging Strong Support and Accountability for Graduation Rates: A joint letter to the U.S. Department of Education from the Alliance for Excellent Education, America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education offering recommendations to ensure a strong focus on high school graduation rates through ESSA regulations. The letter specifically focuses on (1) low-graduation-rate high schools; (2) subgroup accountability for graduation rates; and (3) graduation rates within accountability systems. Download the letter.

Press Statement of Support: Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise says that the Every Student Succeeds Act “keeps the nation’s foot on the high school graduation rate pedal while also providing states and districts with a great deal of flexibility and responsibility.” Read his complete statement in support of ESSA.

Letter of Support: The Alliance for Excellent Education is pleased to endorse the Every Student Succeeds Act. It places an important emphasis on the nation’s lowest-performing high schools and will support the work of educators across America to continue increasing the nation’s high school graduation rate and ensure that all students have the opportunity to succeed in postsecondary education and the workforce. Read the Alliance’s letter of support for ESSA.

Coalition letter on ESSA Regulations: A letter sent by the Alliance and more than 50 civil rights organizations to Acting U.S. Secretary of Education John King stating that as the U.S. Department of Education issues regulations to support the implementation of ESSA, there is a clear federal role in ensuring equal educational opportunities and success for traditionally underserved students. Read the Alliance’s letter on ESSA Regulations.


Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.