Accelify Blog

Every Student Succeeds Act – What’s changed from NCLB?

December 11, 2015

By: Robert Pasternack, Ph.D.

Through a new iteration of the five-decade old Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) signed by President Obama on Thursday, shifts responsibility for education policy and oversight back to the states and LEAs (local school districts) when it comes to teacher evaluation, standards, school turnarounds, and accountability.

ESSA retains key tenets of the law it is replacing, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), calling on states and LEAs to focus on helping under-performing schools, where traditionally overlooked groups of students are struggling, while aiming to provide a more flexible approach to student testing and school accountability.

Here’s a summary of the notable differences between the two laws:

Standardized Testing

After much debate, NCLB’s annual testing schedule will be retained, but ESSA directs states to also incorporate other factors into their accountability systems, such as teacher engagement and student success in advanced coursework, e.g. AP; IB. States are now granted wide discretion in setting measurable goals, figuring out just what to hold schools and districts accountable for, and deciding how to intervene in low-performing schools.

As with NCLB, under ESSA states will still be responsible for testing students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. States will be required to disaggregate data for whole schools and for “subgroups” of students (English-language learners, students with disabilities, racial minorities, those in poverty) and will be required to identify those schools where subgroups are struggling. States will no longer be able to group subgroups together into “supersubgroups,” a practice allowable through the NCLB Waivers granted to most states by the US Department of Education, which should provide greater accountability for each subgroup.

School Improvement

While ESSA does away with the federal School Improvement Grant program, other resources have been established for states to use for school turnarounds. States and LEAs will be required to use locally-developed, evidence-based interventions for the bottom 5% of schools, and in schools where more than a third of high school students do not graduate on time. States must also identify for LEAs those schools where subgroups of students are chronically struggling so that they can implement targeted interventions and supports to narrow achievement gaps between subgroups.

Teacher Evaluation

In abandoning the NCLB waivers granted under the Obama Administration, there will be no role whatsoever for the USDOE in teacher evaluation. Under ESSA, individual states regain the authority to determine how to evaluate teachers and teacher evaluation will no longer be tied to standardized test scores, as was the case under the NCLB waivers granted by the Obama Administration.

ESSA and Students with Disabilities

ESSA maintains a 1% cap on the percentage off ALL students who can take alternate assessments and be counted as proficient. This equates to about 10% of students with disabilities (SWDs). Accordingly, most SWDs receiving Special Education will be taking the general assessment, and the alternate assessment will continue to be reserved for those students with severe cognitive disabilities. ESSA also says that taking the alternate assessment should not preclude a SWD from attempting to get a regular high school diploma.

The new law also requires states to develop plans on how they plan to reduce bullying and harassment, restraint and seclusion, and suspensions and expulsions—all of which disproportionately affect SWDs.  Given that there is currently no Congressional effort to reauthorize IDEA, ESSA is critically important because students with disabilities are general education students first.

Want to know more? Read the full Bill here: