What is ESSA?

The Every Student Succeeds Act, also known as ESSA, is the new federal education law, signed by President Barack Obama in December 2015. For 14 long years, students and educators lived under the deeply flawed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. ESSA returns decision-making to where it belongs: in the hands of local educators, parents, and communities.

Gone is No Child Left Behind’s rigid system of focus on standardized testing and labeling public schools. This means there is more time for teaching and learning, and more flexibility for us to make choices that we know work for our students.

What can I do to make the most of this opportunity?

Make your voice heard. Start by filling out a checklist to see what opportunities your students have now, and what they need.

The checklist will be the first concrete step toward collaborating with local and state elected officials, parents, and other community members.

OK, I have the checklist. Now what?

This law is scheduled to go into effect by the 2017-2018 school year, so now is the time for you to make noise about anything that is missing from your school.

The status of the implementation plans will vary from state to state. Check out our state map to see news from your state, and learn more about what is being planned. And if you want to get even more involved, sign up to help locally.

My state doesn’t appear to be doing as much as other states!

Because the implementation of this law is happening right at the state and local level, there is a lot of variation in what states and local communities are doing. When in doubt, we recommend contacting your state and local NEA affiliate and asking them how you can help. Here are questions you should be asking:

  • Is my state affiliate represented on the state’s ESSA team?
  • Is my local affiliate represented on the district’s ESSA team?

Then let your state and local affiliate know what you think about how to strengthen public schools. You can also join others working on ESSA implementation by joining NEA edCommunities. Sign up and then search for the “ESSA Implementation Group.”

The opportunities of ESSA will only become real if educators, families, and community members work together to lead implementation.

How is this new law really different from No Child Left Behind?

The new law reduces the amount of federally mandated testing and ensures that educators are part of decisions about teaching and learning. One of the other bright spots of the new education law is that it requires at least one “opportunity dashboard” indicator of school quality or success in state’s accountability systems.

But it’s up to states and locals to decide what that measure will be. And your state could decide to look at more than one thing. That’s why your voice is critical right now.

What are some examples of “opportunity dashboard” indicators?

This is where the checklist comes in. Some examples of these indicators could be:

  • Access to advanced courses like honors, AP, or IB classes;
  • School climate and safety;
  • Access to regular physical education classes;
  • Or most importantly: any other state-chosen indicator that allows for meaningful evaluation of school performance, and is valid, reliable, comparable, and statewide.

States have a lot of discretion over these indicators, and they also have the flexibility to determine the weights assigned to each. Want to know more? Find a detailed look at the opportunity dashboard indicator.

I need help talking to others about this.

We’re glad you asked! NEA members developed ESSA Issue Cards / Conversation starters to engage others about these issues. Download them here.

I have questions about the details of the law.

We developed a number of practice guides to help you understand the major elements of ESSA. They provide an overview and look at assessments and accountability. Read the practice guides here.


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