The Every Student Succeeds Act and School Psychologists

By: Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach, NASP Director, Government Relations

It finally happened!  Last week, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act into law, ending the era of No Child Left Behind.  There were a lot of people who were convinced that this process would fall apart (I know several people being treated to a fabulous dinner thanks to those naysayers).  As mentioned in a previous post, this legislation acknowledges the importance of comprehensive learning supports and positive conditions for learning and contains may policies that NASP fought long and hard for.  This chart highlights NASP's specific policy recommendations and what is included in the final law.

A lot of (hopefully positive) changes are on the horizon and NASP will need your help in making sure that states and districts implement high quality evidence based school improvement efforts, that utilize the skills and expertise of school psychologists. These opportunities don't come around very often, and we have to take advantage of it.  If we don't, someone else will.  That's not good for school psychology, and most importantly, it is not good for kids!   In order to leverage this opportunity, it is important that school psychologists understand the major provisions in this law so that we can advocate for effective policy and practice.  One key change is the inclusion of a new definition (for more information visit

specialized instructional support personnel'  means ''(i)school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists; and ''(ii) other qualified professional personnel, such as school nurses, speech language pathologists, and school librarians, involved in providing assessment, diagnosis, counseling, educational, therapeutic, and other necessary services (including related services as that term is defined in section 602 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. 1401)) as part of a comprehensive program to meet student needs.

Importantly, ESSA explicitly references specialized instructional support personnel, and the services we provide more than 40 times in policies related to: the development of state and district school improvement plans; identifying and supporting students most at risk of school failure; improving student literacy; addressing school climate and school safety; supporting the mental and behavioral health of students, among other things. Policy makers acknowledge the broad range of services we can provide, and it is imperative that we make sure that states and districts implement policies and practices that allow us to do so. 

Another critical change is the shift in oversight authority from the federal Department of Education to states and local districts. ESSA authorizes significant investments to support state and district efforts to support the needs of students. Under the policies of NCLB, the Department of Education was allowed dictate specific goals for students, the school improvement strategies and practices that states, districts, and schools were required to implement, and impose consequences if states and districts failed.  Under the new law, there are certain things that states must help districts address. However, states and districts can decide how they want to help schools improve, and which professionals to involve. We must advocate for our role, and make sure that states and districts use available funds to go beyond the basic mandates, and engage in efforts that will truly improve school and student outcomes for all. Here are just a few of policies outlined in ESSA where school psychologists can, and should play a critical role.  ESSA:

  • Requires that States/LEAs engage in meaningful consultation with diverse stakeholders, including specialized instructional support personnel, when developing state/local Title I plans to improve student outcomes and school success;
    • These plans must include a description of how the State and LEAs will support struggling schools and students most at risk of school failure thorough implementation of comprehensive learning supports and other interventions.
  • Allows States/LEAs to use Title I funds to implement multi-tiered systems of support, positive behavior interventions and supports, and early intervening services;
  • Requires states to describe how they will support district efforts to improve school climate, address bullying and harassment, and reduce the use of aversive behavior interventions;
  • Requires that states include at least one indicator of school quality (e.g school climate and safety) in their accountability system;
  • Authorizes a $1.6 Billion formula grant for states and districts to improve: 1) well-rounded education opportunities; 2)conditions for learning to create healthy and safe school environments, and 3)effective use of technology.
    • States must spend at least 20% of funds to create healthy and safe learning environments, which can include mental and behavioral health services
  • Defines 'school-based mental health services provider' as a "State-licensed or State-certified school counselor, school psychologist, school social worker, or other State licensed or certified mental health professional qualified under State law to provide mental health services to children and adolescents";
  • Allows schools to use Title I funds to implement school based mental health programs as part of a schoolwide program to address the needs of students most at risk for school failure.

This is a really exciting time for school psychology and we must do everything we can to take full advantage of these opportunities.  No one else will do it for us.

If you have specific questions, please contact Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach (, NASP Director of Government Relations or Katie Eklund (, Chair, NASP Government and Professional Relations Committee.