The State of ESSA

Posted by Courtney StevensO

November 27, 2018

The importance of data-driven personalization has become increasingly apparent as we’ve moved further into the ESSA era.


Upon being signed into law in December 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was met with a mixed reaction from educators. On the one hand, most educators were glad to be moving past ESSA’s controversial predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), a federal policy that many felt placed too much weight on standardized testing and was often unfairly punitive.


On the other hand, by giving state boards of education increased decision-making authority, ESSA introduced a great deal of uncertainty. But despite this uncertainty, the overwhelming majority of educators were heartened by the flexibility states were given to align student and school performance goals with unique needs of their communities.


Now that we’re almost a year removed from the federal government’s final approval of state ESSA plans, it’s worth considering whether — and in what ways — ESSA implementation has changed the educational landscape in the United States. As might be expected with the rollout of any federal policy, districts have encountered a number of speed bumps as they’ve cruised into the ESSA era, but on the whole, the legislation has laid the groundwork necessary to fulfill the promise of its name.


Much-Needed Changes


Despite maintaining a high profile in the media, ESSA has so far had a fairly modest effect on the day-to-day routines of America’s classrooms.


Under NCLB, students had to take standardized tests assessing their proficiency in reading and math every year from grades 3 through 8, as well as at least once in high school. ESSA also requires assessments like NCLB, but whereas previously these assessments had to be written by state-level authorities, they can now take any number of shapes — including the SAT or ACT.


But while ESSA gives state departments of education the ability to choose from a wider range of assessments, this choice is still leaves administrators and teachers with the same enduring question: should they focus resources on teaching to the test?


Fortunately, ESSA’s revamped vision of accountability provides educators with an incentive to focus instruction and support programs that educate students more holistically. Under NCLB, schools (and by extension, teachers) were evaluated almost exclusively on their students’ performance on statewide standardized tests.


ESSA injects some much-needed nuance into this evaluation process. Under this legislation, states have developed their own school accountability standards related to five different performance indicators: proficiency in reading and math, high school graduation rates, English language proficiency, student growth throughout elementary and middle school, and one additional indicator of “school quality.” This final indicator can be anything from kindergarten readiness to access to and completion of advanced coursework to school climate and safety.


ESSA places a much stronger emphasis on student growth and progress, requiring states to set goals that are ambitious, but also tailored to different student groups’ starting points. ESSA empowers educators to strive for more, and to focus on maximizing each and every student’s potential.


So how can educators meet the new standard of educating the whole child?


Personalization: A Challenge and an Opportunity


For many districts, being afforded the flexibility to personalize education has been both the most exciting opportunity and the biggest challenge of ESSA’s inaugural year.


As powerful as it is, personalizing education requires a nuanced understanding of the diverse achievement levels and personal circumstances of students throughout a district. In order to achieve this holistic understanding, district stakeholders must break students into a variety of cohorts in addition to the cohorts mandated by ESSA — students registered for military service, students in foster care, homeless students, etc. — and carefully track each group’s progress across all five state-level ESSA performance indicators.


Doing so by hand — as student information system alone often don’t connect to all of your data sources — is incredibly difficult, and doesn’t allow for real-time performance tracking. At Hoonuit, our goal is to provide districts with a data platform powerful enough to overcome the logistical challenges inherent to the process of personalizing instruction, intervention, and improvement.


Within our intuitive data dashboards, including a personalized ESSA report card, educators can perform sophisticated gap analyses. This enables them to pinpoint performance gaps between student cohorts across a variety of key indicators with the option to drill down to the individual student level to take specific action. These analyses can be used to highlight a district’s highest-performing schools, classrooms, and cohorts, empowering administrative stakeholders to learn from outcomes-driving best practices and apply them throughout the district.


Ultimately, for every student to succeed, educators must treat every student as what they are: an individual. This level of personalization is impossible without mature data management and analytics, which is why we have developed our platform to meet your specific needs and support  school improvement aligned to your ESSA plan.

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