On December 10, 2015, President Obama signed into law a new education law that takes the place of No Child Left Behind. This new law – the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – is the nation’s largest education law and will impact every public school. Here are six important things for parents to know about ESSA:
1. Expands the Opportunities for Parents to Play a Vital Role
ESSA leaves many important decisions to states and local school districts, such as how to hold schools responsible for student achievement. While the new law provides states with a clear direction of how to craft their accountability systems, it allows States to fill in the details. This is another opportunity for parents to have a seat at the table to make sure the needs of children with learning and attention issues are part of any discussion and at the forefront of decision-makers’ minds. In the coming weeks, NCLD will be providing more information about how to seize this opportunity, so stay tuned!
2. Focuses on Improving Literacy Instruction
Thanks to an active parent advocacy community, ESSA includes two new programs to improve academic achievement in reading and writing using evidence-based, explicit, systematic instruction to support phonological awareness, phonic decoding, fluency and comprehension. The state grant program and the comprehensive literacy center – which came about as a result of earlier efforts to increase teacher training for students with learning disabilities, like dyslexia – will provide educators and families with strategies to recognize early signs of dyslexia and other literacy related challenges, and training for teachers to learn effective instructional strategies and accommodations, and should be available in 2016.
3. Calls on States, Schools to Eliminate Unnecessary Tests While Keeping an Annual Measure of Student Progress
Having an objective way to measure how students are doing in school is an important way to hold states and school districts accountable, especially for students with disabilities (read a parent’s perspective here). Under ESSA, (just like the current NCLB system) students will continue to take once-per-year tests in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school. However, and very importantly, the high-stakes nature of these tests is greatly reduced under ESSA because tests scores alone will not be the only way schools are evaluated. The new law also tells states and school districts to eliminate unnecessary or redundant tests. So, as districts begin to review their policies and eliminate some tests, many students may see a reduction in the number of tests they take each year.
4. Keeps Students with Disabilities on Track for Success
ESSA takes a proactive role in making sure that students with learning and attention issues have access to the general education curriculum and are not taken off track from being able to achieve a regular high school diploma. Importantly, ESSA limits the use of the Alternate Assessment based on Alternate Achievement Standards to only students who have the most significant cognitive disabilities, capped at 1% of a State’s total student population. Having this cap in place is critical to ensuring students with learning and attention issues are not mistakenly given the AA-AAS, which often precludes a student from achieving a regular high school diploma. This provision helps ensure that we keep expectations high for students with learning and attention issues.
5. Gives Parents, Community More Information
ESSA requires States and school districts to be more transparent with parents and the public by sharing key information about how students with learning and attention issues are doing. This includes how students with disabilities are meeting achievement targets, how many are graduating from high school on time, how they are performing on indicators of student achievement, and how their performance is reflected in measures of school quality such as discipline rates. With access to this information for the first time for many– parents and their communities can more effectively target their advocacy to areas of critical need.
6. Promotes Innovation in Education
ESSA includes many provisions to expand innovative practices in states and school districts, including expanding personalized learning, multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS), and universal design for learning, and integrating technology and competency-based education initiatives.
An Opportunity & A Responsibility – Parents as Partners
As this new law offers states a host of opportunities to design and implement their own plans, it also carries a great deal of responsibility for ensuring that students with learning and attention issues are given the opportunity to succeed. Join NCLD as we partner with our vibrant parent community to advocate for improvements for children with learning and attentions issues!