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An Overview of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

Last updated on: November 16, 2020

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaced and updated the No Child Left Behind Act in December 2015. It allowed state education programs more leeway in developing their curriculum and rolled back various items related to testing, teacher qualities, and requirements for lower performing schools. It also had an effect on students with special needs that parents should be familiar with.

Significant Changes under the ESSA

The ESSA scaled back the federal government’s role in education and eliminated some of the standing programs in effect at that time, including Adequate Yearly Progress and Highly Qualified Teacher programs.

The focus of the law is to provide additional support to faculty and administrators to provide the best opportunities possible for children. Programs used in schools are encouraged to be designed to be a complete and well-rounded education for students of all abilities. Testing, teachers’ continuing education, and providing appropriate resources are all focuses of the ESSA.

Shifting to State Accountability

Several changes went into effect when ESSA was signed into law. Below are a few examples of the changes regarding state involvement.

  • While states must still submit accountability plans to the education department of the federal government, states can now develop their own goals that fit their specific needs. However, these goals should address test performance, English language proficiency, and graduation rates.
  • ESSA also specifically eliminated teacher and principal evaluations based solely on student performance.
  • It made funds more flexible as well, allowing schools and districts to use funds where they were most needed instead of for designated programs set out by federal law.
  • States are also required to intervene in high schools where graduation rates are 67% or less.
  • States should also identify schools where specific subgroups of students are struggling.

Intervention plans for schools that are deemed struggling or lower performing must meet certain requirements as set out by law.

The ESSA and Special Needs Education

The ESSA addresses several areas that affect special needs children. Specifically, the decreased emphasis on testing is helpful for special needs children and schools overall, particularly those who are considered “failing” because of strict testing requirements. Schools have more opportunities to make decisions based on the needs of their students under the ESSA.

The ESSA recognizes the need for individualized education programs (IEPs) that involve parents for special needs children. This team is specifically developed for the child and is in the best position to make decisions about the child’s education and testing requirements. The law also addresses the need for Specialized Instructional Support Personnel to provide children with disabilities the support they need early on in their studies, with efforts to transition to a general classroom. It also indicates that students should have access to accommodations that fit their needs, including assistive technology, to perform assessments and testing.

Making sure that your child has access to all of the resources he or she is entitled to in the school system can be difficult when you do not completely know or understand the processes. Matus Law can help you work with your child’s team to create a program that works for him or her. Find more information by checking out our Special Education Page.

Christine Matus

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Christine Matus

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