what is ESSA

What Is ESSA?

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law on December 10, 2015 and largely replaced the No Child Left Behind Act as well as introduced some big changes to the role of the federal government in U.S. educational policy. ESSA takes full effect in the 2017-18 school year. Here are the key elements of the new law:

The Basics:

President Obama had this to say in his statement on ESSA: “The goals of No Child Left Behind, the predecessor of this law, were the right ones: High standards. Accountability. Closing the achievement gap, but in practice, it often fell short. It didn’t always consider the specific needs of each community. It led to too much testing during classroom time. It often forced schools and school districts into cookie-cutter reforms that didn’t always produce the kinds of results that we wanted to see.” The new law seeks to improve upon the perceived drawbacks of the previous education bill’s “cookie-cutter” approach by transferring more power and oversight responsibilities to the states, which in theory will allow for greater flexibility and responsiveness.


ESSA requires states to adopt challenging academic content standards in reading, math, and science in accordance with three levels of achievement related to entrance requirements in the states’ higher education system.

Unlike No Child Left Behind, which applied the same standards to all students, ESSA allows states to develop alternative academic standards for students with significant cognitive disabilities.


ESSA effectively rolls back the federal government’s power to hold failing schools accountable and instead grants that power almost entirely to the states. However, under the new law, the Department of Education (DOE) still has a limited oversight role. Under ESSA, states must submit an accountability plan to the DOE, which provides certain guidelines defining what the accountability goals must include.

These requirements include proficiency on tests, proficiency in English-language studies, and closing gaps in achievement and graduation rates.


No Child Left Behind required students to be tested on math and English every year in grades 3-8 and once in high school. It also required three science tests: one in elementary, one middle school, and one high school. ESSA more or less requires testing in the same grades, but with a greater amount of flexibility regarding how and when these tests are administered. For example, under ESSA, a single end of the year examination can be broken down into a sequence of smaller tests administered at key points throughout the year to better assess progress and give students and teachers more guidance on where they need to make improvements.

Common Core:

ESSA does not require states to adopt Common Core. In fact, the new law actually requires the DOE to remain neutral with regard to implementing Common Core. The law states: “The Secretary shall not attempt to influence, incentivize, or coerce State adoption of the Common Core State Standards developed under the Common Core State Standards Initiative or any other academic standards common to a significant number of States, or assessments tied to such standard.”