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ESSA: Newly Reauthorized Education Law

ESSA: Newly Reauthorized Education Law

What Parents of Students with Disabilities Need to Know and Do

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the new education law that President Obama just signed that reauthorizes the 50 year old Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965), which was known to most people as NCLB (No Child Left Behind, the 2001/2002 reauthorization of ESEA). So, what does ESSA mean for students, including students with disabilities?

The new ESSA does the following:

  • Moves accountability, educator evaluations, and school improvement planning from the federal government to states and local school districts. 
  • Reduces the amount of student testing overall but keeps annual, statewide assessments in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, as well as science tests given three times between grades 3 and 12.
  • Continues annual reporting of data that is separated by subgroups of children, including students with disabilities. (This is important so parents can see how students with disabilities are doing at both the state and school district level.)
  • Supports states to improve low performing schools ( the bottom 5% of schools). 
  • Requires States to set their academic standards in reading and math without interference from the federal government. (The federal government can not mandate or offer states incentives to maintain particular standards, including Common Core.)
  • Mandates that only 1% of students with disabilities can take easier, alternate state assessments. This is to prevent lowered expectations for students with disabilities, while ensuring that students who do take alternate assessments still have meaningful opportunities to make progress in the general education curriculum and work towards a regular high school diploma. In fact, access to the general education curriculum and accommodations on assessments is required for all students with disabilities.
  • Adds Universal Design for Learning (UDL) concepts to encourage course materials that help each individual student, whether they are struggling or they are working above their grade level content. 
  • Requires local districts to provide evidence-based interventions in schools with consistently underperforming subgroups of kids which includes students with disabilities. This means learning techniques must be proven to work successfully based on collected data.
  • Mandates that states address how they will reduce bullying and harassment and also the use of negative, punishing practices such as restraint and seclusion.
  • Includes ongoing support for arts education.
  • Supports early childhood education by authorizing the Preschool Development Grants program to provide funding to support states that propose to improve coordination, quality and access for early childhood school services.
  • Allows for more state control of teacher effectiveness.

What do parents need to do in the coming years regarding ESSA?

With more control moving to the state and district level, it is very important to stay aware of any laws that affect the education of children in your state or at the local district level. Make sure the changes benefit every student, including students with disabilities. If you are not sure of the impact, ask your local school principal or the school board. If the changes are not beneficial, speak out in your school, your district, or at the state level. Your individual voice is powerful so stay informed and be vocal about both positive and negative changes so others are aware.

Time will tell, but with parent knowledge and participation in all legal or procedural changes, parents can and will help the Every Student Succeeds Act live up to its name and support broader and deeper success for each and every student, including students with disabilities.

For more information about ESSA and comments by various groups see the following:

Photo of President Obama signing the ESSA law included through a Google Images search "labeled for reuse."

PEAK Parent Center - 2016 SPEAKout Blog