ESSA Essentials: The Basics on State Plans

ESSA OverviewESSA requires states to ensure that all students have access to effective teachers, a well-rounded education, safe learning environments, equitable access to educational technology and the necessary supports to be prepared for college, career, and life beyond the classroom. Under ESSA, states and districts set their own goals and to determine how they will track, measure and obtain their objectives. In order to receive federal funds from the ED, however, States are required to submit accountability plans that include “challenging academic standards,” state assessment goals, accountability measures that include both academic and school quality indicators to identify struggling schools and student subgroups as well as a strategic plan for school improvement and support. States must also provide a clear, concise description of the state’s accountability system online for public comment that includes four-year long-term goals, benchmarks, strategies to reach such goals, and measurements of student progress disaggregated by student subgroups. However, disaggregation is not required if the results would reveal personally identifiable information about an individual student.[1] State plans and annual results must be reported publicly online using easy-to-understand language so that parents, teachers and the public can follow along. Both states and districts are required to provide annual report cards online in reference to accountability plans.
[1] Section 111(b)(2)(B)1.
State Plans: The Basics

Gone is the nationwide goal of 100% grade-level proficiency under NCLB. States set their own reachable long-term goals and benchmarks for school performance and student achievement based on multiple indicators.

States define a rating system based on A-F, 100 point grading system, or a combination of rating system based on state-defined performance indicators. States must identify the lowest-performing 5% of schools for improvement based on test scores as well as graduation rates and identifying struggling student subgroups.

Just as with NCLB, state tests for reading and math are still required annually for grades 3-8, and once in high school grades 9-12. Science tests must take place once in elementary school, once middle school and once high school. Under ESSA, states have more flexibility with how and when testing takes place. Teacher evaluations based on student test scores are no longer a federal mandate.

Academic assessments serve as a key indicator for school performance. States select their own “challenging academic standards” and proficiency levels for each grade. High school graduation rates also serve as indicators. ESSA expands the definition of core subject matter to include other subjects such as music, art, STEM and computer science.

School quality and student success indicators may include attendance records, school climate survey data, social-emotional support, access to “well-rounded education” including challenging courses (Advanced Placement), ACT/SAT test scores, and entry into post-secondary programs.

The ‘N’ Size Group is the lowest subgroup size that can be reported in a state accountability system in a manner that is statistically sound. Student subgroups include race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, disability, and English language learners (ELLs). Subgroups used for data reporting (but not accountability measures) include homeless status, students with parents in the military, and students in foster care.

ESSA & Educational Technology

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides flexible funding opportunities for State Educational Agencies (SEAs), Local Educational Agencies (LEAs), and educational institutions.

The biggest change from NCLB to ESSA is that State Education Departments have greater leeway in establishing long-term goals, school performance ratings, accountability measures, indicators for student achievement, and defining ‘N’ groups of students. The legislation also gives states and districts control over localized improvement programs that prioritize struggling schools and student subgroups for school-wide improvement and targeted support. Another significant change is ESSA’s expanded definition of what constitutes academic subjects. State plans must measure academic achievement. However, state exam scores for English Language Arts and math are not the only indicators. ESSA’s broader definition of core subjects expands to include STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics), computer science, civics, service learning and internships as part of a “well-rounded education” among others. Furthermore, school performance indicators in state plans must include high school graduation rates as well as another indicator including attendance records, enrollment in post-secondary education, access to enrichment experiences and marks of improved school climate and safety.

As education becomes more data-driven, technology proves to be an integral component in carrying out all aspects of ESSA at the state and local levels. In the past, NCLB offered technology funding through a single grant program, Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT), that only supported isolated technology-based initiatives. Fortunately, ESSA provisions offer flexible federal funding streams to support a wide range of initiatives geared toward delivering “high quality” education. States and districts an opportunity leverage provisions in the law to invest in technology to address a spectrum of educational needs while going beyond legislative requirements.

Academic assessment scores are no longer the sole indicator of student achievement and school performance. The purpose of including additional measures and disaggregating student subgroups aim to gather more data on schoolwide and individual student performance.

Given the intrinsic role of technology in carrying out state plans under ESSA, student data privacy protection becomes all the more important.

How might states, districts and schools leverage ESSA’s provisions to receive funds for valuable programs and technologies that ensure that all students receive equal digital access and a safe and effective learning environment?

i-SAFE encourages states and districts to consider the various areas of the law that provide funding streams for technology including: