The Every Student Succeeds Act: 5 Years Later


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This is the first post of a three-part series that covers school accountability requirements, following the Every Student Succeeds Act enacted in December 2015. This series shares the history of the act, state implementation of those plans and how they have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Every Student Succeeds Act was signed into law in December 2015, bringing sweeping changes to K-12 education, particularly state accountability systems. States began making these changes in the 2017-18 school year with full implementation intended by the 2019-20 school year.

By fall 2017, all states had submitted their ESSA state plans for implementation, which were reviewed and approved by the U.S. Department of Education. These plans detail states’ school accountability systems, including indicators for measuring school performance, school improvement requirements and other aspects of accountability.

These indicators of success include proficiency on assessments, student growth, high school graduation rates, progress of English learners and school quality or student success. States are granted the flexibility to identify and weight indicators within the requirements of ESSA to better evaluate school performance using both academic and non-academic components.

As states worked to implement their plans, policymakers engaged key stakeholders to realize full implementation as well as tweak their accountability system to better align with the goals and priorities of the state.

In Maryland, the state plan and legislative action identified school climate as the school quality and student success indicator of choice. The Maryland Department of Education partnered with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Education Laboratory to work with stakeholders throughout the state to develop a school climate survey. The survey is now administered to both students and instructional staff and covers four key dimensions that contribute to school climate — relationships, environment, community and safety, as well as a dimension specific to instruction for teachers. This collaborative effort helped lead to the development of a meaningful accountability indicator that supports school improvement.

The Kentucky Legislature also moved to reform the state and federal accountability system in 2020 with the enactment of S.B. 158, which requires the department of education to make amendments to the state’s ESSA plan. Key changes include a shift to measuring a condensed list of indicators across both current achievement and growth, as well as a new color-coded system for reporting school performance. The department of education has worked closely with the state board of education to engage stakeholders in finalizing regulatory changes.

Similarly, New Mexico reconsidered the way they rate and identify schools to provide a more holistic picture of school performance. In line with recommendations from the Legislative Education Study Committee’s School Grade Workgroup, the public education department and legislature mapped out a new state accountability system and report card that shifted away from letter grades for schools; adjusted weighting and added new growth indicators; and created a dashboard that paints a picture of school performance on federal accountability requirements in addition to other state priorities like course and educator access.

Since the passage of ESSA, states have continued to amend and tweak their accountability systems to better measure and identify schools based on student growth and achievement as well as other state priorities. The COVID-19 pandemic created uncertainty around state accountability and pushed states to reevaluate their systems entirely. For more information about state responses to the COVID-19 pandemic visit the COVID-19 Pandemic Key Issues page and stay tuned for the next post in our school accountability series.

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Senior Policy Analyst at Education Commission of the States

As a senior policy analyst, Meghan works on K-12 accountability and early childhood education, among other P-20 education policy topics. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, Meghan spent six years at the National Conference of State Legislatures, focusing on human services policy, and earlier, at the Colorado General Assembly as a legislative aide. Meghan believes that education has a tremendous impact on, and is greatly influenced by, other governmental systems, including child welfare, public assistance, housing and health.

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Policy Analyst at Education Commission of the States |

As a policy analyst, Ben works on tracking legislation, answering information requests and contributing to other Policy Team projects. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, he taught high school social studies in Kentucky and worked in education policy at the National Conference of State Legislatures. He earned a master's degree in education policy from the University of Colorado Boulder and a bachelor's degree in history and education from Transylvania University.

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State Relations Strategist at Education Commission of the States |

Lauren supports the state relations team in cultivating relationships and building partnerships with all Education Commission of the States Commissioners. She is the liaison for Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Tennessee. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, Lauren worked on public policy and government relations with Save the Children Action Network in Colorado, Clayton Early Learning, National Conference of State Legislatures and with several members of the legislative and executive branches in Colorado. Lauren is dedicated to helping policymakers across the states connect and collaborate to improve education systems for all students.

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