Letter from Mimi Corcoran and Melody Musgrove

As states and districts dive deeper into the important work of improving schools and student outcomes, we are pleased to share our latest resource and tool for change, Assessing ESSA: Missed Opportunities for Students with Disabilities. This report provides the first national analysis of how state plans are including and serving students with disabilities under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the nation’s new K-12 education law.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities is committed to improving outcomes for students with disabilities, and we believe that through ESSA, states have an obligation and critical opportunity to make sure that our students are front and center in discussions about achievement, equity, school quality, accountability and improvement. States can do more to take advantage of this opportunity. To do that, they must reflect on their progress and strive to make improvements in how they serve all learners.

This report is the first of its kind, aiming to spur change and improve outcomes for the nation’s 6 million students with identified disabilities. To conduct our analysis, NCLD joined with top leaders in the field, all of whom share our dedication and sense of urgency to improve outcomes for all students. We thank our Expert Advisory Council and other contributors for their expertise, commitment and high expectations for our students and schools.

Based on their many insights, we established 15 different indicators to assess ESSA plans for all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, as they relate to students with disabilities. We then assigned ratings for each state in three areas—Holding Districts and Schools Accountable, Helping Struggling Schools, and Collaborating to Support all Students. To guide states to action, the report highlights bright spots as well as areas in need of improvement, while also providing concrete recommendations for policymakers and parents to make change in their communities.

The findings are concerning. While some states have made real progress in delivering the promise of ESSA to students with disabilities, many are squandering this opportunity. Our examination reveals that there is much work ahead if students with disabilities are to realize their full potential and achieve at the levels we know they can. States should be using the ESSA planning process to create a roadmap for success for all learners, yet many are failing to set high expectations or invest in improving outcomes for students with disabilities.

It is not too late for states to change course, however. It is our hope that this report can serve as a catalyst for change to improve outcomes for the millions of students with disabilities in public schools. We look forward to working with states and districts in their efforts to use the opportunity ESSA provides to enhance the education of students with disabilities and chart a course to their success–in school and in life.


Mimi Corcoran, President & CEO, National Center for Learning Disabilities

Melody Musgrove, Expert Advisory Council Member, Former U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) Director

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