Every Student Succeeds Act

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Every Student Succeeds Act
Great Seal of the United States
Long titleAn original bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to ensure that every child achieves.
Acronyms (colloquial)ESSA
Enacted bythe 114th United States Congress
Public lawPub. L.Tooltip Public Law (United States) 114–95 (text) (PDF)
Statutes at Large129 Stat. 1802
Acts amendedElementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965
Acts repealedNo Child Left Behind Act
Titles amended20 U.S.C.: Education
U.S.C. sections amended20 U.S.C. ch. 28 § 1001 et seq.
20 U.S.C. ch. 70
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the United States Senate as S. 1177 by Lamar Alexander (R-TN) on April 30, 2015
  • Committee consideration by HELP
  • Passed the United States House of Representatives on December 2, 2015 (359–64)
  • Passed the United States Senate on December 9, 2015 (85–12)
  • Signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 10, 2015

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a US law passed in December 2015 that governs the United States K–12 public education policy.[1] The law replaced its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), and modified but did not eliminate provisions relating to the periodic standardized tests given to students.[2][3] Like the No Child Left Behind Act, ESSA is a reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which established the federal government's expanded role in public education.

The Every Student Succeeds Act passed both chambers of Congress with bipartisan support.[4]


President Barack Obama signs the Act into law, December 2015

The bill is the first to narrow the United States federal government's role in elementary and secondary education since the 1980s. The ESSA retains the hallmark annual standardized testing requirements of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act but shifts the law's federal accountability provisions to states. Under the law, students will continue to take annual tests between the third and eighth grades.[5]

ESSA leaves significantly more control to the states and districts in determining the standards students are held to. States are required to submit their goals and standards and how they plan to achieve them to the US Department of Education, which must then submit additional feedback, and eventually approve.[6] In doing so, the DOE still holds states accountable by ensuring they are implementing complete and ambitious, yet feasible goals. Students will then be tested each year from third through eighth grade and then once again their junior year of high school.[7] These standardized tests will determine each student's capabilities in the classroom, and the success of the state in implementing its plans. The states are also left to determine the consequences low-performing schools might face and how they will be supported in the following years.[7] The USDOE defines low-performing schools as those in the bottom ten percent of the state, based on the number of students who successfully graduate or the number of students who test proficient in reading or language arts and mathematics.[8]

All states must have a multiple-measure accountability system, which include the following four indicators: achievement and/or growth on annual reading/language arts and math assessments; English language proficiency, an elementary and middle school academic measure of student growth; and high school graduation rates.[9] All states also had to include at least one additional indicator of school quality or student success, commonly called the fifth indicator. Most states use chronic absenteeism as their fifth indicator.[10]

Another primary goal of the ESSA is preparing all students, regardless of race, income, disability, ethnicity, or proficiency in English, for a successful college experience and fulfilling career.[7] Therefore, ESSA also requires schools to offer college and career counseling and advanced placement courses to all students.[7]


ESSA vote
Senate[11] House[12]
Rep. Dem. Rep. Dem.
40–12 45–0 178–64 181–0

The No Child Left Behind Act was due for reauthorization in 2007, but was not pursued for a lack of bipartisan cooperation.[13] Many states failed to meet the NCLB's standards, and the Obama administration granted waivers to many states for schools that showed success but failed under the NCLB standards.[14] However, these waivers usually required schools to adopt academic standards such as the Common Core.[14] The NCLB was generally praised for forcing schools and states to become more accountable for ensuring the education of poor and minority children.[13] However, the increase in standardized testing that occurred during the presidencies of Bush and Obama met with resistance from many parents, and many called for a lessened role for the federal government in education.[14] Similarly, the president of the National Education Association decried the NCLB's "one-size-fits-all model ... of test, blame and punish."[15]

Following his 2014 re-election, Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who had served as Education Secretary under President George H. W. Bush, decided to pursue a major rewrite of No Child Left Behind.[16] Alexander and Patty Murray (D-WA), the ranking member of the HELP committee, collaborated to write a bipartisan bill that could pass the Republican-controlled Congress and earn the signature of President Barack Obama.[16] At the same time, John Kline (R-MN), chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, pushed his own bill in the House. In July 2015, each chamber of the United States Congress passed their own renewals of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.[17] President Obama remained largely outside of the negotiations, though Alexander did win Obama's promise to not threaten to veto the bill during negotiations.[16] As the House and Senate negotiated for the passage of a single bill in both houses, Bobby Scott (D-VA), the ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, became a key player in ensuring Democratic votes in the House.[16] By September 2015, the House and Senate had been able to resolve most of the major differences, but continued to differ on how to evaluate schools and how to respond to schools that perform poorly.[16] House and Senate negotiators agreed to a proposal from Scott to allow the federal government to mandate specific circumstances in which states had to intervene in schools, while broadly giving states leeway in how to rate schools and in how to help struggling schools.[16] Other major provisions included a pre-K program (at the urging of Murray), a provision to help ensure that states would not be able to exempt large swaths of students from testing (at the behest of civil rights groups), and restrictions on the power of the Education Secretary (at the urging of Alexander and Kline).[16] The surprise resignation of Speaker John Boehner nearly derailed the bill, but incoming Speaker Paul Ryan's support of the bill helped ensure its passage.[16] In December 2015, the House passed the bill in a 359–64 vote; days later, the Senate passed the bill in an 85–12 vote.[5] President Obama signed the bill into law on December 10, 2015.[16]

Students with disabilities[edit]

The Every Student Succeeds Act also sets new mandates on expectations and requirements for students with disabilities. Most students with disabilities will be required to take the same assessments and will be held to the same standards as other students. ESSA allows for only one percent of students, accounting for ten percent of students with disabilities, to be excused from the usual standardized testing.[18] This one percent is reserved for students with severe cognitive disabilities, who will be required to take an alternate assessment instead.[19] This is a smaller percentage of students than under past mandates, mainly because there is not enough staff available to administer the assessments to the students one-on-one.[18] The Department of Education does not define disabled, rather, each state decides its own definition in order to determine which students will be allowed to take the alternate assessment. This could prove to be more challenging, though, when it comes to comparing students to one another because not all states will define disabled the same way.[19] The ESSA has also recognized that bullying and harassment in schools disproportionately affects students with disabilities. Because of this, the ESSA requires states to develop and implement plans on how they will combat and attempt to reduce bullying incidents on their campuses.[18]

Reception and opinion[edit]

President Obama explains why he signed the Act

Journalist Libby Nelson wrote that the ESSA was a victory for conservatives who wished to see federal control of school accountability transferred to states, and that states "could scale back their efforts to improve schools for poor and minority children".[20]

Researchers from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute also approved of "grant[ing] states more authority over their accountability systems."[21] However, they also expressed concern that, in an effort to set proficiency levels that low-performing students could pass, states would neglect the needs of high-performing students, which would disproportionately affect high-performing, low-income students.[22][23]

State testing under ESSA[edit]

According to the October 24, 2015 U.S. Department of Education Fact Sheet: Testing Action Plan, state testing programs implemented under No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top were "draining creative approaches from our classrooms", "consuming too much instructional time" and "creating undue stress for educators and students."[24]

Federal mandates and incentives were cited as partly responsible for students spending too much time taking standardized tests.[24] ESSA provided states with flexibility to correct the balance and unwind "practices that have burdened classroom time or not served students or educators well."[24]

The Every Student Succeeds Act statute, regulations and guidance give states broad discretion to design and implement assessment systems.[25] Neither the statute nor the regulations apply any specific limits on test design,[25] however United States Department of Education guidance documents say it is essential to ensure that tests "take up the minimum necessary time."[24]

Section 1111(b)(2)(B)(viii)(1) of ESSA presents states with the opportunity to meet all Federal academic assessment requirements with a single comprehensive test.[26] As of 2018-19 some states like Maryland continue to fulfill ESSA assessment requirements by administering four or more content-specific state standardized tests with testing windows that stretch from December through June.[27]

The Every Student Succeeds Act prohibits any officer or employee of the Federal Government from using grants, contracts or other cooperative agreements to mandate, direct or control a state's academic standards and assessments.[28] It also explicitly prohibited any requirement, direction or mandate to adopt the Common Core State Standards[29] and gave states explicit permission to withdraw from the Common Core State Standards or otherwise revise their standards.[30] On January 31, 2019, Florida's Governor signed an executive order "eliminating Common Core and the vestiges of Common Core" from Florida's public schools.[31]

A possibly out-of-date or incomplete enumeration of state testing initiatives designed to satisfy the requirements of the ESSA can be found at List of state achievement tests in the United States.

Suspension of accountability requirements[edit]

An inauguration day directive on January 20, 2017, from President Donald Trump's Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff "Regulatory Freeze Pending Review"[32] delayed implementation of new regulations, including portions of the Every Student Succeeds Act. On February 10, 2017, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wrote to chief state school officers that "states should continue their work" in developing their ESSA plans and noted that a revised template may be issued.[33][34] In March 2017, Republican lawmakers with the support of the Trump administration used the Congressional Review Act to eliminate the Obama administration's accountability regulations.[35]


  1. ^ Hirschfeld Davis, Julie (December 10, 2015). "President Obama Signs Into Law a Rewrite of No Child Left Behind". New York Times. Retrieved December 19, 2015.
  2. ^ Korte, Gregory (December 11, 2015). "The Every Student Succeeds Act vs. No Child Left Behind: What's changed?". USA Today. Retrieved December 18, 2015.
  3. ^ Walker, Tim (December 9, 2015). "With Passage of Every Student Succeeds Act, Life After NCLB Begins". NEA Today. Retrieved December 19, 2015.
  4. ^ "President Obama Signs Education Law, Leaving 'No Child' Behind". National Public Radio. December 10, 2015. Retrieved December 22, 2015.
  5. ^ a b Nelson, Libby (December 2, 2015). "Congress is getting rid of No Child Left Behind. Here's what will replace it". Vox. Vox Media. Archived from the original on December 4, 2015. Retrieved December 2, 2015.
  6. ^ Green, Erica L (July 7, 2017). "DeVos's Hard Line on New Education Law Surprises States". The New York Times.
  7. ^ a b c d Darrow, Alice-Ann (October 2016). "The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)". General Music Today. 30: 41–44. doi:10.1177/1048371316658327. S2CID 148151729 – via EBSCO host.
  8. ^ "Definitions". U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved July 30, 2017.
  9. ^ Alliance for Excellent Education (December 2016). "Every Student Succeeds Act Primer: Accountability" (PDF). Alliance for Excellent Education. Retrieved December 9, 2019.
  10. ^ "Some states are missing the point of ESSA's fifth indicator". Child Trends. September 20, 2017. Retrieved December 10, 2019.
  11. ^ "Question: On the Conference Report (Conference Report to Accompany S.1177 )". US Senate. Retrieved December 11, 2015.
  12. ^ "Final Vote Results for Roll Call 665". House.gov. US House. Retrieved December 11, 2015.
  13. ^ a b Rich, Mokoto (July 6, 2012). "'No Child' Law Whittled Down by White House". New York Times. Retrieved December 12, 2015.
  14. ^ a b c Rich, Motoko (March 20, 2015). "No Child Left Behind Law Faces Its Own Reckoning". New York Times. Retrieved December 12, 2015.
  15. ^ Eskelsen García, Lily (April 21, 2015). "Get rid of 'test, blame, punish': Opposing view". USA Today. Retrieved December 18, 2015.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i Severns, Maggie (December 11, 2015). "How Congress finally killed No Child Left Behind". Politico. Retrieved December 12, 2015.
  17. ^ Schneider, Mercedes (July 27, 2015). "About the Upcoming House–Senate ESEA Conference Committee... And One from the Past". The Huffington Post. AOL. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved December 2, 2015.
  18. ^ a b c Samuels, Christina A. (January 6, 2016). "Special Education Community Gears Up for Advocacy". Education Week. 35: 21 – via EBSCO Host.
  19. ^ a b "ESSA: Key Provisions and Implications for Students with Disabilities" (PDF). Council of Chief State School Officers. Retrieved August 5, 2017.
  20. ^ "Congress is getting rid of No Child Left Behind. Here's what will replace it., Libby Nelson, VOX, Dec 9, 2015". December 2, 2015.
  21. ^ "Rating the Ratings: An Analysis of the 51 ESSA Accountability Plans, Brandon L. Wright and Michael J. Petrilli, Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Nov 14, 2017".
  22. ^ "High Stakes for High Achievers: State Accountability in the Age of ESSA (Part I), Michael J. Petrilli, David Griffith, Brandon L. Wright and Audrey Kim, Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Aug 31, 2016".
  23. ^ "High Stakes for High Schoolers: State Accountability in the Age of ESSA (Part II), Michael J. Petrilli, David Griffith and Brandon Wright, Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Nov 15, 2016".
  24. ^ a b c d "U.S. Department of Education Fact Sheet: Testing Action Plan, October 24, 2015 Archived Information". October 24, 2015. Retrieved February 1, 2019.
  25. ^ a b "Title I - Academic Assessments, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Department of Education: Final Regulations. Analysis of Comments and Changes. Rules and Regulations DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION 34 CFR Part 200 RIN 1810-AB32" (PDF). Federal Register. 81 (236): 88894 Column 3. December 8, 2016.
  26. ^ page 21. Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 [As Amended Through P.L. 115–224, Enacted July 31, 2018], Title I – Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged, Part A – Improving Basic Programs Operated by Local Educational Agencies, Subpart I – Basic Program Requirements, Sec. 1111 [20 U.S.C. 6311] State Plans, (b) Challenging Academic Standards and Academic Assessments, (2) Academic Assessments, (B) Requirements, (viii), (I) https://legcounsel.house.gov/Comps/Elementary And Secondary Education Act Of 1965.pdf
  27. ^ MARYLAND STATE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Student Testing Calendar School Year 2018‐2019, Official as of September 3, 2018, http://marylandpublicschools.org/programs/Documents/Testing/MSDETestingCalendar.pdf
  28. ^ p. 424, Every Student Succeeds Act, January 6, 2015, SEC. 8526A. [20 U.S.C. 7906a] PROHIBITION AGAINST FEDERAL MANDATES, DIRECTION, OR CONTROL https://legcounsel.house.gov/Comps/Elementary And Secondary Education Act Of 1965.pdf
  29. ^ p. 431, Every Student Succeeds Act.  January 6, 2015, SEC. 8544. [20 U.S.C. 7924] STATE CONTROL OVER STANDARDS https://legcounsel.house.gov/Comps/ElementaryAnd Secondary Education Act Of 1965.pdf
  30. ^ p. 431, Every Student Succeeds Act.  January 6, 2015, SEC. 8544. [20 U.S.C. 7924] STATE CONTROL OVER STANDARDS. https://legcounsel.house.gov/Comps/Elementary And Secondary Education Act Of 1965.pdf
  31. ^ Postal, Leslie (January 31, 2019). "Gov. Ron DeSantis seeks to ditch Common Core, find new academic standards for public schools". Orlando Sentinel. Archived from the original on February 8, 2019.
  32. ^ Mark, Sandy (January 20, 2017). "Memorandum: Implementation of Regulatory Freeze". whitehouse.gov. White House Press Office. Archived from the original on January 27, 2017. Retrieved February 16, 2017.
  33. ^ Alyson, Klein (February 10, 2017). "Betsy DeVos to State Chiefs: Full Speed Ahead on the Every Student Succeeds Act". Education Week. Retrieved February 16, 2017.
  34. ^ DeVos, Betsy (February 10, 2017). "Betsy DeVos letter of February 10, 2017" (PDF). ed.gov. U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved February 16, 2017.
  35. ^ Ujifusa, Andrew. "How Have Obama's K-12 Policies Fared Under Trump?". Education Week. Retrieved June 20, 2018.

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