The Every Student Succeeds Act significantly improves upon No Child Left Behind by, among other things, giving more power back to states and local schools. We’re working to help policymakers and educators take advantage of the law’s new flexibility, especially when it comes to creating smarter school accountability systems, prioritizing the needs of high-achieving low-income students, and encouraging the adoption of content-rich curricula.


Our many ESSA-related blog posts are listed below.

Fordham's ESSA experts:

During the No Child Left Behind era of education reform, now winding down, teachers, schools and districts were tacitly encouraged to focus their efforts on raising the floor rather than raising the roof on student achievement. Whether by accident, choice or neglect, high-achievers as well as those merely "above proficient" received little attention. And why should they? With so many struggling in the water, why concern ourselves with those standing safely on dry land?

A new report from my colleagues at Fordham tells why. Simple fairness, for starters. We should strive to develop the full potential of all children, not encourage schools to choose winners and losers either by design or neglect. It's also in our strategic interests not to ignore high-achievers. From their ranks will surely emerge many of the men and women for whom our children and grandchildren will work and vote, and whose talents will hopefully keep the nation secure and economically competitive well into the future.

There's a moral component to consider as well. "If we want tomorrow's scientists, entrepreneurs, and inventors to 'look like America,' our schools need to take special pains with the education of high-ability kids from disadvantaged circumstances," the report...

Ohio leaders have started an important conversation about education policy under the Every Student Succeeds Act. One of the central issues is what accountability will look like—including how to hold schools accountable for the outcomes of student subgroups (e.g., pupils who are low-income or African American). Ohio’s accountability system is largely praiseworthy, but policy makers should address one glaring weakness: subgroup accountability policies.

The state currently implements subgroup accountability via the gap-closing measure, also known as “annual measureable objectives.” Briefly speaking, the measure consists of two steps: First, it evaluates a school’s subgroup proficiency rate against a statewide proficiency goal; second, if a subgroup misses the goal, schools may receive credit if that subgroup shows year-to-year improvement in proficiency.

This approach to accountability is deeply flawed. The reasons boil down to three major problems, some of which I’ve discussed before. First, using pure proficiency rate is a poor accountability policy when better measures of achievement—such as Ohio’s performance index—are available. (See Morgan Polikoff’s and Mike Petrilli’s recent letters to the Department of Education for more on this.) Second, year-to-year changes in proficiency could be conflated with changes in student composition. For example, we might notice a jump in subgroup proficiency. But is...

No, I’m not referring to the Golden State’s rich palette of ethnic and other minority (and majority) groups, nor to its desire that they’ll live, work, and go to school in harmony, like Monet’s Water Lilies or Matisse’s Fauve masterpieces. I’m on the case of California’s nutty new color-coded approach to school accountability and school report cards. Not only is it manifestly discriminatory against color-blind people like me; it’s overall baffling and unhelpful to just about everyone who might ever want to make use of it.

We all know that the Every Student Succeeds Act gives states much wider leeway than they had under NCLB to craft school accountability arrangements that suit them. Just about every state is frantically working to get its Title I plan to Washington by the March 2017 deadline, and battles are raging over the Education Department’s interpretation (via draft regulations) of several key pieces of the new law.

One of those battles is about whether the feds should require states to issue a single “summative” rating, such as an A-to-F grade, for every public school. There are plenty of reasons why that’s a bad idea. Would you not, for example, know more about a school...

You're invited to join in the conversation and contribute to Ohio’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan.
Engage in a regional meeting to share your thoughts and perspective on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and Ohio’s developing state plan. This meeting is an exciting opportunity to gather valuable input from various perspectives from local educators, funders, parents, students and community members. The meeting will include an introduction from state superintendent Paolo DeMaria, a brief overview of ESSA and group discussions around specific provisions and options.
ESSA, which passed Congress with bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 10, 2015, replaced the No Child Left Behind Act. It has shifted broad authority from the federal government to state and local agencies, providing them with greater flexibility and decision-making power. Ohio’s state plan, which is required by ESSA, will be submitted to the federal government in 2017 and will address topics such as standards, assessments, accountability and assistance for struggling schools.
This regional conversation is one of a series of conversations Philanthropy Ohio and its members, in...

Many education stakeholders see the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) as an opportunity to fix the most problematic provisions in NCLB. For many critics, the biggest bogeyman was too much standardized testing and its associated accountability measures. While ESSA maintains the annual testing requirements, it also offers new flexibilities. Among these is the opportunity to apply for the Innovative Assessment Pilot (IAP).

IAP is a provision that permits states to pilot an innovative assessment system in place of a statewide achievement test. “Innovative” is an umbrella term that covers a plethora of different testing options, including (but not limited to) competency-based, instructionally embedded, and performance-based assessments. Regardless of the assessment type chosen by a state, it must result in an annual, summative score for a student. Authority to participate in the pilot—known as “demonstration authority”—will be granted through an application process run by the secretary of education. No more than seven states will be allowed to participate in the pilot for a period of up to five years, with the option to apply for an additional two-year extension.[1]

Folks who are worried that states might use the pilot to weaken...

Editor's note: This post reproduces a letter sent to Secretary of Education John King on July 29. 

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I am writing to suggest two very specific changes to the proposed rule that your department published on May 31, 2016, regarding the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and its provisions for school-level accountability.

  1. For the “academic achievement” indicator mandated by ESSA, do not require states to use proficiency rates.
  2. Allow states to provide evidence that their proposed “other indicators of student success or school quality” are related to improved graduation, college completion, employment, civic engagement, and/or military readiness rates as alternatives to achievement.

These two tweaks will maintain the law’s strong focus on results while allowing states to develop accountability systems that are maximally fair and useful to educators, parents, and the public.

Recommendation #1: Make states report proficiency rates, but don’t require their use for the “academic achievement” indicator.

As Morgan Polikoff and dozens of scholars and policy analysts explained in a letter submitted to your department on July 22, proficiency rates are extremely poor measures of school quality. Other approaches—such as proficiency indices or scale scores—would meet ESSA’s mandate for measuring proficiency without encouraging schools...

The new education law of the land—the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—has been the talk of the town since President Obama signed it into law in December 2015. Under the new law, testing doesn’t initially seem that different from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) days: ESSA retains the requirement that states administer annual assessments in grades 3–8 and once in high school; requires that test results remain a prominent part of new state accountability plans; and continues to expect states to identify and intervene in struggling schools based upon assessment results. But a closer look reveals that ESSA provides a few key flexibilities to states and districts—and opens the door for some pretty significant choices. Let’s take a look at the biggest choices that Ohio will have to make and the benefits and drawbacks of each option. 

Test design

There are two key decisions for states in terms of test design. The first is related to high school testing. ESSA permits districts to use “a locally selected assessment in lieu of the state-designed academic assessment” as long as it’s a “nationally recognized high school academic assessment.” In other words, Ohio districts could forego a...

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) required states to identify and intervene in persistently low-performing schools. Some states opted for more aggressive intervention with the creation of recovery school districts, including the Achievement School District in Tennessee, the Recovery School District in Louisiana, and the Education Achievement Authority in Michigan. Here in the Buckeye State, we don’t have a statewide recovery district—but we do have “academic distress commissions” (ADCs).

ADCs were added to Ohio state law in 2005 as a way for the state to intervene in districts that consistently fail to meet academic standards. Only two districts (Youngstown and Lorain) have ever been placed under ADC control, while a third (Cleveland) avoided the designation because of its implementation of the Cleveland Plan. In the summer of 2015, however, ADCs blasted onto the front pages of Ohio newspapers thanks to House Bill 70. The bill—widely known as the “Youngstown Plan” [1]sharpened the powers and duties of ADCs in Ohio and was signed into law by Governor Kasich in July. (See here for an overview of the bill’s biggest changes to ADCs.) 


Elliot Regenstein

Congressional leaders have taken pride in pointing out that early learning plays a more prominent role in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) than it did under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Early learning has made historic advances during President Obama’s tenure, and Secretary of Education John King has gone out of his way to talk about its value. Given all that, you would think that the Department of Education’s proposed rules for school accountability and improvement systems would reinforce the importance of early learning—but in fact, they appear to do just the opposite.

Accountability under ESSA

Under NCLB, test-based proficiency in grades three and up was the primary driver of elementary school accountability. State systems generally didn’t say anything about what went on in the K–2 years, so many school districts and schools understandably ignored those years in their improvement efforts.

ESSA changed that by requiring states to include an accountability indicator of school quality or student success that isn’t based on test scores. Accountability metrics are arguably the most important opportunity embedded in ESSA to advance early learning and improve the early elementary grades. Many of the law’s changes clarify that early learning is a permissible use of funds;...

Like Mom and apple pie, everyone loves and believes in a well-rounded education. Ensuring that every child gets one, however, has proven to be a challenge of Herculean magnitude—despite compelling evidence that it’s precisely what disadvantaged students most desperately need to close persistent achievement gaps and compete academically with their more fortunate peers. Enter the Every Student Succeeds Act. As this report from Scott D. Jones and Emily Workman of the Education Commission of the States (ECS) notes, while concerns about providing children a well-rounded education “have not received the same degree of attention as hot-button issues like equitable funding and accountability indicators, it could be considered a foundational element of the new federal law.”

Foundational, perhaps. But is it enforceable? Education Secretary John King has lately been using the bully pulpit to promote the virtues of a well-rounded education. “States now have the opportunity to broaden their definition of educational excellence, to include providing students strong learning experiences in science, social studies, world languages, and the arts,” King is quoted as saying by the ECS authors. “That’s a huge and welcome change.”

Yes and no. In truth, states have always had the “opportunity” to broaden their definition of educational...