ESSA: Every Student Succeeds Act

What the New Law Means for Our Schools


In 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaced No Child Left Behind (NCLB). ESSA reduces federal authority in education, providing states and districts with more control over how to help students become college- and career- ready. While ESSA maintains a focus on standards, annual assessments, accountability systems, data reporting, and supports for underperforming schools, it eliminates the federal performance goals and interventions that once characterized NCLB.

Implications for California

Students and Schools: Multiple Measures, Not Just Test Scores

Then: Under NCLB, the federal government set all performance goals, which were based solely on student test scores.

Now: In contrast, ESSA gives individual states those responsibilities. In other words, California will set its own performance goals and progress markers for all subgroups of students. Moreover, student learning and school progress will be evaluated based on multiple measures. This means California will measure school success by four academic factors: test scores, graduation rates, English-language proficiency, and one other indicator of school quality.

English Learners: Increased Focus on English Proficiency

Under ESSA, there is an increased focus on English proficiency. This is especially important in California, where one in four K-12 students is classified as an English Language Learner (ELL).

Targeted Support for Struggling Schools

Under ESSA, California must provide support and intervention for three groups:

  1. The lowest-performing 5 percent of Title I schools
  2. All high schools where fewer than two-thirds of the students graduate
  3. Schools where underserved students are falling behind

Struggling schools will write improvement plans, meaning that supports and interventions will be targeted at individual schools. Districts will monitor the progress of struggling schools; cases of chronic underperformance will lead to state-monitored progress.

Annual Testing: Fewer Standardized Tests

As under NCLB, students will continue to be assessed, taking mandatory standardized tests in grades 3-8 and again in high school. However, ESSA is designed to reduce the number of standardized tests students take. For instance, California may cap the amount of time students spend taking annual standardized tests.

Increased Attention to Additional Student Subgroups

California will continue to monitor graduation rates and test scores, analyzing that data for multiple subgroups of students. New subgroups include: children in foster care, homeless children, and children of active duty military parents.

Click here to learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act.
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