What the Every Student Succeeds Act Means for State Education Leaders

State officials are closely watching as the U.S. Department of Education releases more information on what the new Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, changes in accountability system requirements and funding mechanisms. 

According to Missouri’s top education official, Commissioner Margie Vandeven, the new act gives states greater flexibility. 

“ESSA provides states with the long-term, stable federal policy necessary to lead statewide improvement,” Vandeven told The Current State. “Missouri is well-positioned to lead the nation on student success through our own homegrown systems. With the reauthorization of this law, we will focus on what works for children in our state.”

Missouri and 40 other states created their own accountability and assessment systems, which were approved through waivers accepted by the U.S. Department of Education under the No Child Left Behind, or NCLB, Act. 

Replacing the controversial NCLB law, the ESSA reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, and is the product of bipartisan efforts in Congress to give states greater control of accountability and academic standards. It had been 13 years since Congress approved the reauthorization of ESEA in 2002. The bill originally passed in 1965, designed by President Lyndon Johnson to address student achievement gaps and fund elementary and secondary education.  

The ESSA is a comprehensive piece of federal legislation on the funding and policy for early childhood through high school and serves as the guidebook for programmatic requirements, funding and accountability systems for states. The ESEA rewrite is on the minds of elected officials and policymakers as state leaders seek guidance on the implementation of the new act.  

Vandeven said the new law will provide states and districts new opportunities to work together to best meet the needs of students. “While the new law still requires that states identify schools in need of improvement, ESSA moves away from requiring the same federally prescribed interventions for all schools,” she said. “The new law also strengthens district-level responsibility in the school improvement process. This allows states and districts to determine which strategies work best for their students.”

The act empowers state and local decision makers to develop their own systems for school improvement based upon evidence, rather than imposing the cookie cutter federal solutions set forth in the NCLB.

In Missouri, Vandeven hopes to explore the use of state pilot programs highlighted in the new act. “We are interested in learning more about state pilots researching innovative new methods of measuring student progress from year to year. We are also exploring the possible use of multiple assessments to generate a summative score of student achievement,” she said.

While state education leaders are excited about the new flexibility in funding and accountability measures, the transition from NCLB to the newly reauthorized ESEA doesn’t mean immediate changes for states. The U.S. Department of Education has notified state education officials that there will be a gradual transition, not an abrupt end, to NCLB, with changes taking place over the next 18 months. The department is seeking advice and recommendations from the public throughout the coming weeks to inform the regulatory process as the new act is implemented.

Missouri, like other states, is waiting to see what develops in the implementation of the new law. “There are some unknowns at this time about the law such as the parameters of the state pilots, and we will be eager to see how these items develop,” said Vandeven. As the unknowns of the ESSA are explored, the slow transition is in the states’ favor as issues with the new law are thoughtfully addressed at the state and federal levels. 

Looking at the future of education in Missouri, Vandeven said, “We do not expect major shifts in education policy at the state level as a result of ESSA. Missouri will continue working with local stakeholders using the Missouri Model Educator Evaluation System and the Missouri Principles of Effective Evaluation to determine how educators should be evaluated and supported in their development each year.”