ESEA Heads to Congressional Vote

By: Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach, NASP Director, Government Relations

Legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now referred to as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), could be finalized and passed by the House and Senate as early as December 8th.  Thanks to the incredible advocacy of NASP Leaders, State Leaders, State Associations, and NASP members, several of NASP's priorities are included in the reauthorization. Your voice truly does matter, and your voice most definitley makes a difference!!  Last week, by a vote of 38-1, the Conference Committee voted to advance a legislative framework intended to reauthorize ESEA.  Full legislative language will be released on November 30th.  As they say, "the devil is in the details," and the full implications of this new legislation will not be known until the entire bill is released.  What is certain, however, is the shift in responsibility and control in decision making from the Federal governement to State and Local Education Agencies. Many of the mandates enacted in No Child Left Behind have been replaced in favor of giving states and districts the authority to determine state and local education policy. NASP is encouraged by the details made public thus far, and we're hopeful that the final langauge will ensure that all students are held to high standards and high expectations, and empower schools to adopt policies and practices that meet the needs of the whole child.   So, here are some of the highlights based on what we know so far.  If you have specific questions, feel free to contact me ( 

Assessment and Accountability

ESSA sets forth a few parameters, but the design and implementation of the assessment and accountability system is largely up to the states.  Further, there is no mandate that student test scores be tied to teacher evaluations.  States may use this practice if they wish, but they are not required to do so.  ESSA requires that:

  • States must develop standards in reading, math, science, and any other subject they choose to
  • The Secretary of Education cannot mandate a specific set of standards for a state
  • States must annually assess students in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school. Grade span testing is allowed for science.
  • Assessment data be broken out to show progress by various subgroups (e.g. English language learners, students in special education, low income students, and minority students).
  • States must set challenging goals for students and all subgroups of students
  • State accountability systems must include proficiency on state tests, english langauge proficiency, and at least one other academic indicator.  High schools must include graduation rates.
  • State accountability systems must include at least one measure of school quality such as school climate, school safety, or family engagement.
  • States and districts must implement evidence based interventions for low performing schools or schools in which subgroups of students are not making progress
  • At least once every three years, states have to identify the bottom 5% of schools and provide intervention

It is unclear what, if any, consequences must be imposed for schools that consistently fail to improve.

Schools must report, as part of effort to improve transparency, data regarding academic performance, incidents of bullying, harassment, distribution of fully certified teachers, measures of school climate, suspension and expulsion rates, and any other data they wish to share. 

Comprehensive Learning Supports/Safe and Supportive Schools

Without jinxing anything, or sounding overly optimistic without seeing the final language, I'll say that it appears that  comprehensive learning supports and safe and supportive school environments is finally considered a priority. The current ESSA framework requires:

  • States to describe how they will address bullying and harassement in school and how they will work to decreae the use of aversive behavior interventions, like seclusion and restraint.

Although many smaller grant programs, including the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Program, were eliminated, ESSA authorizes a new 'Student Support and Academic Enrichment' grant program.  This grant, authorized at $1.6 billion, yes, that is supposed to say billion, is a significant increase in authorized funds for these services.  States will receive funding based on the forumula used to allocate Title I funds. States will then distribute funds to LEAs to address three specific areas:

  • Well-Rounded Educational Opportunities including physical education, civics, social studies, music, arts, or any other related activity
  • Safe and Healthy Students including initiatives to improve student mental and behavioral health, school climate, address school violence and safety, address bullying and harassement, substance abuse, among other things.
  • Effective Use of Technology including professional development 

LEA's must complete a needs assessment to describe how these funds will address the needs of their school community.  At least 20% of funds must be spent to address Well-Rounded Educational Opportunities; at least 20% of funds must be used to address Safe and Healthy Students, and LEAs must engage in once activity related to technology.  No more that 15% of these funds can be used to purchace specific technology devices. 

Explict Definition of School Psychologist

At this time, it is not certain that a specific definition of school psychologist is contained in ESSA.  Given that credentialing of individual professions is a state level issue, we expect to see few, if any definitions for specific professionals provided (even teacher is not defined). 

However, there are two terms in which 'school psychologist' is explicitly referenced: 'school based mental health service provider' and 'specialized instructional support personnel.'  Both of these definitions describe the professionals who should be providing mental health services, as well as other comprehensive services to address barriers to learning, in the school setting. The inclusion of 'school psychologist' in each of these definitions provides further evidence that school psychologists are uniquely qualified to provide broad and comprehensive school psychological services. 

Thank you for your advocacy, and all the work you do every day to support children, families, schools, and your communities.