Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): Transition begins with this school year!

Group of happy young children who are at school

The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), formerly known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), was completed when the President signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law on December 10, 2015. The law has been around under different names, since 1965. Its main purpose is as a civil rights law, to address the need for equal opportunities in education for all students, including students with disabilities. Full implementation of the new law will occur in the 2017-2018 school year with 2016-2017 serving as a transition year. With the passage of ESSA, all NCLB waivers will cease to exist on Aug. 1, 2016 and the new law will begin.

The new ESSA law attempts to address some of the problem areas in NCLB and provides new provisions for things such as revised alternate assessments, enhanced implementation of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and provides language to improve school climate and restrict the use restraint and seclusion techniques in schools.

Revised Alternate Assessments
The requirement under ESSA is that students who participate in the state alternate assessment receive instruction based upon grade academic content, and that students cannot be put into an alternate assessment without first having received such instruction. ESSA also requires that alternate assessments be based on the state’s challenging academic content standards for all students.

ESSA requires that states promote involvement and
progress in the
general education curriculum for all students, including those who take an alternate assessment.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) for all content areas
ESSA includes UDL in its definition of comprehensive literacy instruction. Universal Design for Learning is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. ESSA requires comprehensive literacy instruction to be implemented across all content areas. (It doesn’t make sense to implement UDL solely in reading or English-Language Arts). Visit the National Center on Universal Design at CAST: www.udlcenter.org.

Improved School Climate
ESSA may require schools to accept technical assistance on best practices for improving school climate and safety. This can include eliminating bullying, addressing the inappropriate and dangerous use of restraints and seclusion, and increasing the number of students with disabilities who are educated in the general education classroom.

ESSA changes can support IEPs
Many of the changes in the new ESSA will assist parents at Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings to raise academic expectations and strengthen school services for students with disabilities.

Meaningful Stakeholder Consultation
ESSA requires each state to create implementation plans that are to be developed in consultation with stakeholders, including parents. Decisions will be made at the state and local levels by the 2017-18 school year regarding the details of the requirements of school accountability for the academic performance of students with disabilities. Contact the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to learn more about opportunities for involvement. Visit www.doe.mass.edu and search for ESSA.

Schools Are Accountable for Students with Disabilities
ESSA requires that a minimum of 95% of all students (including students with disabilities) participate in the state assessment system (MCAS). It is important to understand that the 95% participation rule in ESSA is applied to all students at each school and each student subgroup. In other words, if students in one subgroup are not assessed, even if the rule is met for the other subgroups, the school may be in violation.

ESSA also requires the reporting of student scores for any subgroup with over 30 students. Some advocates are concerned that may be too large a number and result in too many schools becoming exempt from reporting if they have too few students. Therefore, some have recommended that the number be lowered to an “n” size of 10.

Finally ESSA requires that data is reported for every student subgroup listed in the law, without eliminating or combining any student subgroups. This means the current Massachusetts category of “high needs students” may need to be separated into different groups of students.

More resources: As the implementation of ESSA moves forward, greater details will become available, as well as tips for families on how to advocate for their children in school settings.

In the meantime, visit www.advocacyinstitute.org/ESSA/index.shtml for additional information