A quick history lesson:
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act into federal law in 1965 as part of his “War on Poverty”. The act not only funded K-12 education, but also emphasized equal access to education and established high standards and accountability. The act was also meant to reduce the achievement gaps between students.

As the main federal law governing our K-12 education system, it’s no surprise that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act has gone through significant changes in its 50-year history. In fact, the act has been “reauthorized” a number of times, meaning Congress recommended changes, additions, and deletions, and ultimately named each new version.

No Child Left Behind is the 2002 version and was followed in December 2015 by the Every Student Succeeds Act (or ESSA).

How is ESSA different?
What the authors of ESSA hoped to do was find the right balance between the roles of the federal, state and local governments in setting education policy. In particular, states now have increased responsibility and flexibility.

What is Arizona responsible for?
The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) must lead efforts to set long- and short-term goals for K-12 education. The goals must address things like improving the high school graduation rate and closing the achievement gap between groups of students.

The state must create an accountability system for schools, which is essentially a process for determining if schools are succeeding. In addition to academic achievement, the accountability system must measure things like progress made over time, high school graduation rates, gains made by English Language Learners, and more. Arizona will also need to have a way to identify and improve the lowest performing schools.

ESSA requires states to adopt standards (what students should know and be able to do at each grade) that are “challenging”, but does NOT require or encourage states to adopt a specific set of standards.

How will this impact my child?
Although there will be changes to Arizona’s accountability system, your child will still have to be tested in math and English language arts once a year in third through eighth grades, and once in high school. (Science must also be assessed at least once in grades 3-5, 6-9 and 10-12.) However, as a result of ESSA, states now have more flexibility to decide what those tests look like and how they are administered.

The authors of ESSA really wanted to focus on improving outcomes for English language learners and students with special needs. Therefore, test data will now be broken down into even clearer subgroups and the act outlines other accommodations that must be made for these students.

School letter grades will be determined based on a new accountability system, which means your school’s grade may change. ESSA requires detailed school, district and state report cards to paint a clear picture of how students are doing.

What happens next?
ESSA takes full effect in the 2017-18 school year. ADE is hard at work on Arizona’s ESSA plan, and recently released a first draft. There will be various opportunities for review by key stakeholders, including the public. We’ll keep you up to speed as those opportunities become available.