By Courtney Borchert
NDG Special Contributor
Texas will implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in school districts this academic year. The federal law grants more flexibility to states in exchange for comprehensive state-developed plans that help close achievement gaps and provide accountability with action for low-performing schools.
ESSA is a bipartisan law that was enacted under the Obama Administration in 2015, which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act through the 2020 fiscal year. This combination of legislation offers grants to districts serving low-income students, and allows states to redirect some resources into what helps their schools improve when students fall behind.
Key differences between this federal law and its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act, includes reducing standardized testing and shifting from science-based intervention methods to the use of evidence-based strategies to improve student outcomes. ESSA also expands the range of accountability measures used to distinguish student success by adding factors like high school graduation rates. School quality factors such as school climate and safety, chronic absenteeism and access and completion of advanced coursework can be acknowledged in the overall district assessment, but are weighted at a lower value than academic factors.
Each local education agency (LEA) that receives Title I, Part A funding is responsible for disseminating the state, LEA and campus-level report cards. The implementation of ESSA will change the approach and some of the requirements for report cards during the 2017-2018 school year. For example, former legislation required states report how they would hold LEAs accountable for meeting annual measurable achievement objectives. Report cards will now require a description of how states will assist LEAs in meeting long-term goals, and specify measurements of interim progress toward those goals. Additional items reported on include but are not limited to listing professional qualifications of teachers, comparative achievement data and per-pupil expenditures. There is a continued emphasis on disaggregated data, which provides subgroups with more opportunity for transparency and equity.
The Texas Education Agency is still in the process of drafting their state plan and has been gathering ongoing feedback since ESSA was enacted. Texas’ draft plan is expected to be available for public comment sometime in August before the school year begins. A final plan must be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education by September 18 for approval.