I congratulate the House and Senate, as well as President Obama, for accomplishing what many thought impossible: a successful, bipartisan rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In particular, we were thrilled that the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) includes digital learning and technology professional development in its K-12 education vision. – Brian Lewis, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)
The much anticipated successor to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is finally here. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed with overwhelming support from Congress and was signed by President Obama on December 10, 2015. ESSA includes provisions to help ensure success for students and schools, and provides state and local governments more control over the strategy for closing achievement gaps. It also includes a state grant program intended for technology use in education.
How Did This Come About?
It’s important to first understand how this act came to be what it is now. A quick look back:
- The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was signed into law in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It started as a civil rights law, offering grants to districts with low-income students, federal grants for books, funding for special education centers and scholarships for low-income college students.
- As an update to ESEA, NCLB was signed by President George W. Bush in early 2002.
- President Obama announced the Race to the Top program in 2009 to award competitive grants to school districts making substantial gains in student achievement. Funding of $4.35 billion was provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
- In 2012, the Obama administration began granting flexibility to states regarding specific requirements of NCLB in exchange for comprehensive state-developed plans.
- Marking the end of the NCLB era, The House of Representatives passed ESSA on December 7. The Senate passed it on December 9 and President Obama signed it into law on December 10, 2015.
A Nod to Technology Initiatives
As mentioned, the act includes a large state block-grant program for technology use. This boost to education technology is the only other source of federal funding aside from E-rate, which provides discounts on telecommunications services and Internet access for schools. According to eSchool News, the act will make nearly $1 billion available for education technology every year for the next four years. However, states and school districts could decide to use the funding for other activities they prioritize, including projects to help students become well-rounded and stay safe and healthy.
Either way, this is good news for school districts who will now be able to update their technology infrastructure and increase their bandwidth to support important technology initiatives such as BYOD, personalized learning, blended learning and online testing.
Does ESSA Change Testing?
The main difference of ESSA compared to NCLB is that it gives the reigns back to the states and school districts to decide how to use test scores to evaluate teachers and low-performing schools. The act keeps in place the NCLB-mandated annual assessments in reading and math for students in grades 3-8. School districts will also have to test each student at least once in high school.
The assessment scores will have to be separated by subgroups of students, but the schools can control how they address any achievement gaps among those groups. Unlike NCLB, ESSA allows for the use of computer-adaptive testing in state and local assessment systems to more accurately determine student achievement.
As for keeping the Common Core Standards (CCSS), ESSA says that states must adopt “challenging” academic standards – which may include CCSS, but it is not a mandate across every state. States are free to choose their own form of testing and standards as it is no longer federally mandated by the Department of Education.
Overall, the act is believed to create a fair balance between the federal’s government’s role in education and the state and local governments, empowering them to use their own experiences and expertise to shape how they address student achievement and help every student succeed. Over the next few weeks, the U.S. Department of Education will work with states and districts to begin implementing the new law. For updates, visit http://www.ed.gov/essa or sign up for news about ESSA.