In what many would have considered impossible after eight years of delay, the U.S. House of Representatives took an historic vote on Dec. 2, 2015, to approve, 359-64, a reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now called the “Every Student Succeeds Act.” On Dec. 9, the Senate also approved the bill, 85-12, and President Barack Obama signed it into law on Dec. 10. It's provisions took effect with the 2016-17 school year and comprise the main body of federal legislation governing public education.
ESSA requires each state to establish challenging state academic standards in mathematics, reading/language arts, science and any other subject determined by the state, that are aligned with entrance requirements for credit-bearing coursework in the system of public higher education in the state and relevant career and technical education standards. ESSA allows states to adopt alternate academic achievement standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities if they are aligned with the challenging state academic standards noted above and reflect professional judgment as to the highest possible standards achievable by such students.
States receiving Title I funds are required to assess reading/language arts and mathematics every year in grades 3-8, as well as one year in the 9-12 grade span (Texas currently requires students to pass Algebra I and English I and II end-of-course exams to graduate). States also are required to administer a science assessment annually in at least one grade in each of the following grade spans: 3-5, 6-9 and 10-12. Texas meets these requirements.
ESSA allows school districts to use locally selected, nationally recognized high school academic assessments in lieu of the state high school assessments, if approved by the state. However, the tests must be aligned with the state academic content standards, address the depth and breadth of such standards, and be equivalent in content coverage, difficulty, and quality to the state-designed assessments. They must also provide comparable, valid, and reliable data on academic achievement, as compared to the state-designed assessments, for all students and for each subgroup of students among all local school districts within the state. The Texas State ESSA Plan does not currently contain provisions addressing this.
ESSA requires participation in the grades 4 and 8 reading and math sections of the National Assessment of Educational Progress provided that the federal government pays for it.
ESSA requires states to annually measure the achievement of not less than 95% of the students in the state on the required state assessments and to explain how they will factor the 95% participation requirement — both for students overall and for each student group — into their accountability system. The State ESSA Plan provides that a participation rate of less than 95% on statewide math and reading/language arts assessments will be included on the Closing the Gaps domain (the third domain in the state accountability system).
ESSA puts a state-level cap of 1% on the number of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who can take an alternate assessment, which must be aligned with challenging state academic standards. However, ESSA also allows states to seek a cap waiver from the U.S. secretary of education. Texas was granted a waiver from the cap for 2019-20.
States must assess students in English who have attended school in the U.S. for three or more consecutive school years, unless the state determines, on a case-by-case basis, that administering assessments in another language would likely yield more accurate and reliable information regarding what the student knows, in which case they can do so for an additional two consecutive years. Texas chose to assess and report the performance of the student on state math/ELA assessments in the first year of enrollment in a school, but exclude the results of these assessments in the state accountability system in the first year; and include the results in the second year and beyond.
ESSA allows states to exempt any eighth-grader from taking the eighth-grade math assessment if the student takes an end-of-course exam that the state typically administers to meet the act’s high school math assessment requirements, the results of which are used for reporting on/accountability for the eighth-grade math assessment, and the student takes an EOC in high school that is more advanced than the EOC taken in eighth grade, the results of which are used for reporting/accountability for high school math assessment. Texas will require eighth-graders taking the Algebra I EOC to take the SAT or ACT in high school.
ESSA requires that states adopt state accountability systems based on the challenging state academic standards for reading/language arts and math, as well as on ambitious state-designed long-term goals for all students and separately for each subgroup of students. Texas uses Domain 3/Closing the Gaps of its 3-domain state accountability system to incorporate the accountability requirements of ESSA.
Based on the performance of schools and subgroups in schools on the indicators, states are required to “meaningfully differentiate” public schools in the state on an annual basis. The state ESSA plan provides that the Closing the Gaps score will be computed based on a weighted average of the indicators computed from the number of items meeting targets divided by the number of items evaluated.
ESSA requires that states identify the bottom-performing 5% of Title I schools and any high school failing to graduate at least 67% of students for comprehensive support and intervention.
For purposes of determining the lowest-performing 5% of campuses, the Texas State ESSA Plan provides that schools will be identified based upon their accountability rating in Domain 3 of the state accountability system as follows: the weighted average for Domain 3 will be scaled to grades and rank ordered to identify the bottom-performing 5% of campuses. ESSA also requires that states annually identify any campus with one or more “consistently underperforming” student subgroups under the accountability system for targeted support and improvement. The Texas State ESSA Plan defines “consistently underperforming” as having one or more student subgroups that do not meet interim goals for the Domain 3 indicators for three consecutive years.
One of the provisions eliminated by the Every Student Succeeds Act was the former NCLB requirement for all teachers of core academic subjects to be “highly qualified.”
Instead, ESSA requires that state-submitted plans contain assurances regarding how the state will ensure that all teachers and paraprofessionals working in schools receiving Title I funds meet applicable state certification and licensure requirements, and a description of how low-income and minority children enrolled in these schools are not served at disproportionate rates by ineffective, out-of-field or inexperienced teachers, as well as the measures the state will use to evaluate and publicly report the progress of the state with respect to the above.
The measure that TEA uses to evaluate and publicly report the progress of the state equity plan for teacher excellence is the Texas Equity Toolkit.
The plan provides that various strategies will be used to address equity gaps with regard to access to excellent teachers, as well as insufficient training and support for teachers. Strategies will include continued support of the implementation of the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System and the Educator Excellence Innovation grant program, as well as “lesson study,” an inquiry based, job-embedded professional development process where teachers work collaboratively to develop, teach, and assess research-based lessons.
ESSA requires states to continue the same professional standards for Title I paraprofessionals that were in place under the No Child Left Behind Act.
Paraprofessionals whose duties consist solely of parental involvement activities or translation services are exempt from the qualification requirement.