Five months after the Every Student Succeeds Act came into effect, many educators are still wondering how the law will impact their work in the long term.
One of the essential elements of The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is its decreased emphasis on testing — a metric that was central to the legislation’s predecessor, No Child Left Behind (NCLB). But this sweeping bipartisan legislation is making an impact that goes far beyond exam administration and scoring. The law didn’t come into effect until the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, and many teachers are only now beginning to feel the effects of ESSA in the classroom.
Here we’ll explore the most immediate effects that ESSA has had and will continue to have on classroom teachers.
ESSA doesn’t actually lessen the testing requirements instituted by No Child Left Behind — each state still has to test students in reading and math every year from third to eighth grade, and in science at least three times before they graduate from high school. What ESSA does is remove many of the punitive measures NCLB imposed on schools that did not meet these requirements, as well as introduce some flexibility into what exams are administered and when.
For example, both states and school districts are now permitted to conduct audits of mandated exams in order to eliminate any tests they find unnecessary or ineffective, and can pay for those audits with public funds. They can also seek to limit the amount of class time that students spend taking tests, and create innovative new assessments through a pilot program to better measure students’ mastery of course material in a smaller amount of time.
In short, ESSA still requires teachers to regularly test students’ knowledge of core subjects, but does not mandate one approach to doing so. Educators are still required to strive towards the goals set by NCLB, but they are no longer discouraged by strict sanctions from trying out new approaches to reaching those goals.
Perhaps the biggest change to accountability measures made by ESSA is the elimination of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), a diagnostic tool created by NCLB to determine the areas in which schools needed to improve performance. Responding to critics who alleged that AYP created unfair standards for schools, ESSA instead directs each state to develop its own standards for accountability to be reviewed and approved at the federal level.
Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean that standards for individual schools and classrooms will be relaxed — it all comes down to the criteria your state has created, which may or may not be more strict than those set forth by NCLB. However, ESSA also allows states and districts to use public funds to investigate the working conditions that are preventing teachers from reaching their goals. Teachers in underfunded schools often deal with larger class sizes and fewer induction or mentoring resources, and these investigations offer them an opportunity to secure greater support from local and state governments.
ESSA was created with the goal of using exam results not to rank schools, but to improve them. ESSA doesn’t change the fact that students will regularly be tested for core academic skills, but it does place the onus on educators to glean insights from the results of those tests. To do that, districts will need high-powered analytics solutions like Hoonuit, which offers a centralized, intuitive platform that educators can use to explore the root causes of trends in student data and find new ways to improve academic performance.
Still not sure if you’re ready for ESSA compliance? Download our ESSA Preparation Checklist for the 5 things all district can start doing now to be prepared for accountability reporting under ESSA.