The Every Student Succeeds Act: Details of the New Law

The Every Student Succeeds Act: The Big Picture

Perhaps the most significant change in is that ESSA significantly reduces the authority of the federal Secretary of Education. States and local jurisdictions have substantial control over the implementation of academic standards, the design and enforcement of accountability systems, and how to allocate federal dollars. Specific implications of this law will become more clear as the regulatory process unfolds. For now, these are the key highlights of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Key Definitions: ESSA contains two definitions that specifically mention school psychologists:

'school-based mental health services provider': "includes 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"

'specialized instructional support personnel'means "(i)school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists; and "(ii) other qualified professional personnel... 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."

Specialized instructional support personnel (SISP) is a new term that replaces  'pupil services personnel', and is intended to reflect the similarities between pupil services (as defined in ESEA) and 'related services' as defined by IDEA, and the professionals that provide these services to children in general and special education.  ESSA explicitly references (and in some cases mandates) specialized instructional support personnel and services more than 40 times in policies regarding  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 others.  

Assessment and Accountability for All Students. ESSA replaces the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and 100% proficiency requirements with a comprehensive model focused on supporting struggling schools.  In consultation with various stakeholders, which must include specialized instructional support personnel, states must establish an accountability system to measure progress toward "ambitious long term goals." As part of this plan, States must annually measure student progress toward goals based on:

  • proficiency on state assessments, and
    • at least one other valid and reliable academic indicator that can include student growth
    • high school graduation rates (high schools only)
  • at least one indicator of school quality or student success that allows for meaningful differentiation, such as student or educator engagement, or school climate and safety

School Support and Improvement. States must establish a system of meaningfully differentiating school performance. At least once every three years states must identify a category of schools for "comprehensive support and improvement" that includes, at a minimum, the bottom 5% of schools and high schools with graduation rates below 67%. These schools must conduct a needs assessment, implement evidence based comprehensive learning supports based of the results, and identify and plan to address resource inequity, which could include staffing ratios. The State approves these plans and determines how long schools have to improve and what actions will be taken if schools fail to make progress.

Every year, states must inform local school districts of any individual schools in which any subgroup of students is 'consistently under performing.' These schools must develop, and the district must approve, a plan to improve outcomes for the subgroup of students identified as under performing. The district determines how long these schools have to improve, and what action will be taken if schools fail to make progress. It is unclear when and if the state can impose additional requirements on schools who do not improve. This is an issue we expect to be addressed via regulations.

Improving School Climate, School Safety, and Access to High Quality Comprehensive Learning Supports.ESSA requires that states include data about school climate, bullying, and harassment their annual state report card. States could  choose to include measures of school climate/school safety in their accountability system, but at a minimum, it must be made available to the public. Further, states must articulate how they will assist LEA efforts regarding bullying, harassment, and discipline. School psychologists should routinely examine the available data from their schools, states, and districts to monitor the progress of efforts to improve school climate/safety and reduce bullying and harassment and ensure that all students attend a school with a safe and supportive learning environment.

To help schools improve conditions for learning, ESSA authorizes various funding streams that states and districts can use to implement:

  • positive behavior interventions and supports or other activities to address skills such as social emotional learning, conflict resolution, effective problem solving, and appropriate relationship building.
  • trauma informed practices, and mental health first aid
  • comprehensive school mental health services
  • efforts to improve school climate, school safety, and crisis prevention, intervention, and response
  • improve school community partnerships

Districts may use federal funds to offer ongoing and job embedded professional development activities for all relevant school staff that facilitates the alignment of activities to specific school improvement efforts and increased educator capacity within multi-tiered systems of support.

We will continue to update school psychologists as specific details and requirements are proposed through the regulatory process.

ESSA Implementation Resources

NASP has a number of resources to help school psychologists advocate for the effective implementation of the Every Student Succeds Act.  When students have access to comprehensive school psychological services, everyone benefits.

Related Resources

ESSA/MTSS Crosswalk
School psychologists have distinct skills to help schools implement MTSS to improve student outcomes and meet ESSA mandates.>

Effective School Community Partnerships
School psychologists can help schools form effective and collaborative relationships with community stakeholders to improve student learning and overall health.