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The Every Student Succeeds Act Explained

The Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, is the latest version of the nation’s most important K–12 education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Passed in 2015, its purpose is to ensure that all students in every state have access to an equitable and excellent education. It requires states to set ambitious goals for student achievement, measure and report the academic progress and graduation rates of all students and groups of students (by race, gender, disability status, socioeconomic status, etc.), and take action in schools where students need additional help to succeed.

Compared to its predecessor—the No Child Left Behind Act—states and districts have greater flexibility to measure school and student success and to determine what interventions they will implement in low-performing schools. While this flexibility creates opportunities for local innovation, it also poses risks if states and districts shirk those responsibilities or make policy choices that perpetuate historical inequities. We developed the following resources to explain ESSA and its opportunities for promoting equity.


Under ESSA, states are accountable for focusing resources on low-performing schools and historically underserved students who consistently demonstrate low performance, based on multiple, state-selected indicators Watch a special edition of Federal Flash or download All4Ed’s fact sheet on ESSA’s accountability provisions or our chart comparing school accountability under ESSA with the previous version of the law, the No Child Left Behind Act.

Advanced Coursework

ESSA offers states and districts several opportunities to provide students with advanced coursework, including Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, dual and concurrent enrollment programs, and early college high schools. In this primer, All4Ed and the NAACP review how ESSA can help more students access rigorous, college- and career-ready content.

American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian Students

In partnership with the National Indian Education Association, this fact sheet reviews several provisions that target the education needs of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students in ESSA.


ESSA supports states in implementing high-quality assessments by providing new flexibility, funding, and a new pilot program. These 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. Our special edition of Federal Flash explains these policies, or you can download our assessments primer below.

Deeper Learning

All4Ed explains how ESSA helps states and districts advance deeper learning and ensure students graduate able to think critically, solve problems, collaborate with peers, communicate effectively, and be self-directed.

Digital Learning

ESSA eliminates the Enhancing Education through Technology (Ed-Tech) State Program. However, it creates a new Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants program and authorizes up to $1.6 billion annually to provide formula grants to states for multiple purposes, including improving student academic achievement and digital literacy through the effective use of technology. Learn more in the primer below, or watch the special edition of Federal Flash.

High School Dropout Prevention and Reengagement of Out-of-School Youth

All4Ed, CLASP, and the National Youth Employment Coalition break down ESSA’s provisions that support state and district efforts to (1) prevent students from dropping out of high school and (2) reengage out-of- school youth.

High Schools

All4Ed’s special edition of Federal Flash and fact sheet provide a deep dive of ESSA’s provisions that require states and districts to take responsibility for supporting and improving the quality of low-performing high schools, including those where fewer than two-thirds of students graduate.

Linked Learning

In this special edition of Federal Flash and the fact sheet below, All4Ed and the Linked Learning Alliance explain how ESSA supports the implementation of Linked Learning and similar college and career pathways. Linked Learning is an approach to high school redesign that combines rigorous academics, career-based learning in the classroom, work-based learning, and integrated student supports.


ESSA outlines a direct and sustained approach to improving literacy achievement by supporting states in developing high-quality literacy instruction and a continuum of interventions and support for students at risk for reading and writing failure.

Parent and Community Engagement

To strengthen the nation’s education system, schools, districts, and states must actively engage parents and communities. ESSA includes specific requirements that parents and communities can use to make their voices heard. All4Ed and the NAACP explain.

Personalized Learning

Watch a special edition of Federal Flash, or download our fact sheet, to learn how 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.

Reducing Incidents of Student Discipline

The overuse of exclusionary discipline practices in schools, and the role it plays in perpetuating the school-to-prison pipeline, deservedly continues to garner national attention. In this primer, All4Ed and the NAACP review how ESSA can help reduce these practices.

Rural Schools

All4Ed, in partnership with the Rural School and Community Trust, detail the opportunities in ESSA to support rural education by providing states and local districts more flexibility while preserving the critical role of the federal government. Watch the video or download the primer below.


ESSA offers states and districts several opportunities to provide students with a robust science education, including provisions for training and recruiting science teachers; creating specialized schools dedicated to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); and expanding STEM curricula.

Teacher Preparation

All4Ed and AACTE summarize opportunities for states, districts, and not-for-profit and for-profit entities in ESSA to invest in high-quality innovative teacher preparation and support new educators as they begin their careers.

Teachers and School Leaders

Under ESSA, states and districts are responsible for improving the quality and effectiveness of teachers, principals, and other school leaders. Notably, ESSA eliminates the highly qualified teacher (HQT) provision that existed under the No Child Left Behind Act. HQT required that students from low-income families and students of color not be taught by ineffective, inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers at higher rates than their peers. Learn more by watching the special edition of Federal Flash or downloading the primer below.

Title I Funding For High Schools

ESSA changes the requirements for how local educational agencies (LEAs) can allocate Title I funds in ways that support more high schools to receive funding and close the “missing middle.”