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:

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...

M. René Islas

Children with extraordinary gifts and talents experience drastically different needs. We parents, teachers, and advocates often get nervous calling attention to bright children, and we often fall into the trap of working under the radar or even making ourselves invisible.

When we do this, we pull smart kids into the shadows with us. Hiding hasn’t worked in the past and won’t work in the future. A new approach is required to meet the needs of gifted children. We should borrow the strategies and tactics that other movements—such as civil rights protesters, suffragettes, and environmental activists—have successfully used to inspire social change. It is imperative that we emerge from the shadows and work openly on behalf of gifted children.

As advocates, we must try new strategies and tactics to help society fully understand the nature and needs of gifted children, to create supportive environments for their learning, and to implement research-based practices that help them capitalize on their talents.

In short, we must change minds, change policies, and change practice. The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) will drive initiatives to accomplish these important goals through our action and collaboration.

Change Minds

The first goal is to dispel common myths, to expand the...


One of the most controversial aspects of school accountability is how to identify and improve persistently low-performing schools. Under NCLB, states were required to identify districts and schools that failed to make the federal standard known as adequate yearly progress. Failure led to a cascading set of consequences that were viewed by many as inflexible and ineffective.

The passage of a new national education law— the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed by President Obama in December— has shifted more of the responsibility for identifying and intervening in persistently low-performing schools to states (though the Department of Education’s regulations attempt to pull some of that responsibility back to Washington—more on that later).

School identification under ESSA is determined by a state’s “system of meaningful differentiation.” This is based on the state’s accountability system, including indicators of student proficiency, student growth, graduation rates, and English language proficiency. The use of these indicators isn’t optional, though the weight of each (and the methodology crafted from them that is then used to identify schools) is left up to states. Using their chosen methodology, states are required to identify a minimum of two statewide categories of schools: comprehensive support and improvement schools and targeted support and intervention...


The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to incorporate at least one non-academic indicator—which might include (but isn’t limited to) factors like school climate or safety—into their accountability frameworks. That makes this study, published in Educational Researcher, well-timed. The authors set out to test the theory that reductions in school violence and/or improvements to school climate would lead to improved academic outcomes. Instead, the evidence they discovered suggests that the relationship flows in the opposite direction: A school’s improvement in academic performance led to reductions in violence and improved climate—not the other way around.

The authors found serious gaps in prior studies of school climate and safety, many of which illustrated only correlation (not causation) among the variables examined. This motivated them to test the assumption that improved school climate must come first in the chicken-egg scenario. Using six years of student survey results (2007–13) from a representative sample of 3,100 California middle and high schools, analysts employed a research design known for its ability to test causality when large-scale experimental designs aren’t possible. (For the curious, this is described as a “cross-lagged panel autoregressive modeling design,” which determines whether variables at different points in time are correlated...


Though it sometimes appears that Education Secretary John King didn’t get the memo, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) represents a significant devolution of authority from the federal government to the states. This is a praiseworthy development that, in our view, better fits America’s constitutional principles of federalism and opens up many areas of education policy for innovation and improvement.

That devolution includes the heart of ESSA: school-level accountability. States now enjoy a freer hand to decide how they want to rate (or “grade”) their schools and determine which are worthy of either praise or aggressive intervention. The new law doesn’t give states carte blanche; they can’t move away from student achievement as a major indicator of quality, for example. But they certainly have more leeway than under No Child Left Behind.

So what forms might—and should—this take? How might states approach the particular challenge of redesigning their accountability systems? The contestants in our “accountability design competition” in February surfaced ideas aplenty and made many promising suggestions. With a few months of reflection on them, we see that there are competing camps or worldviews when it comes to ESSA accountability (much as there are regarding school choice). We see...


Since President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December, much discussion has centered on changes related to school accountability. Under the new law, a state’s accountability plan must include long-term goals, measures of progress toward those goals, and an explanation of how the state plans to differentiate schools. This revised system would replace the accountability plans that states developed under their still-operational NCLB waivers, and it would take effect during the 2017–18 school year. ESSA’s accountability requirements also involve the dissemination of annual report cards for the state, districts, and schools that contain a variety of accountability indicators and a plethora of data.

NCLB also required school report cards, so the idea itself is nothing new. What’s changed is what the report cards contain. For instance, NCLB required states to include information on state assessment results, the percentage of students not tested, graduation rates, and performance on adequate yearly progress measures. ESSA moves away from adequate yearly progress while mandating four types of indicators: achievement, another academic measure (probably growth for elementary and middle schools and graduation rates for high schools), progress for English language learners, and “other indicators of school quality and...