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This document is part of AASA’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) implementation resources. The full set of resources is available at

Top Nine Takeaways: Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) & Accountability

  1. ESSA maintains a role for the federal government in K12 accountability, albeit a greatly reduced role that returns significant flexibility and authority to the state and local level. ESSA eliminates 100 percent proficiency, eliminates adequate yearly progress (AYP), annual measurable objectives (AMOs), supplemental educational services and the related 20 percent set aside, and highly qualified teacher (HQT) provisions. ESSA eliminates many of the aspects of accountability under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) that were most problematic. The remaining federal ‘guardrails’ for accountability are listed in item three.
  2. The restructured role for the federal government in K12 accountability is one of support, rather than prescription. In restricting the role of the federal government and returning authority and flexibility to the state and local level, ESSA makes clear that state and local education agencies are the ‘drivers’ of standards, assessment and accountability.
  3. The federal requirements around accountability in ESSA are finite:
    • Continued data disaggregation by student sub group. Student achievement information must be reported for the accountability subgroups, and now includes reporting requirements related to foster care, homeless students, and military connected students.
    • Continued calculation of graduation rates, using the adjusted cohort calculation
    • Mandatory identification of and intervention in a state’s lowest performing 5 percent of schools
    • Mandatory identification of and intervention in any high school in a state graduating less than 67 percent
    • Establishment of long-term and interim performance targets. This is NOT to be confused with annual measurable objectives under No Child Left Behind. Under NCLB, failure to reach performance targets triggered the ‘failure’ label and mandatory intervention. Under ESSA, there is no federally mandated intervention or labeling based solely on long-term and interim targets. States have discretion in determining the length of the goals. The goal length must be the same for all students across all subgroups.
  4. ESSA helps reduce a high-stakes testing environment, codifying a role for non-academic indicators in states’ accountability workbooks. ESSA codifies that state accountability workbooks must include both academic and non-academic factors. Using the indicators listed below, states have to meaningfully differentiate public schools on an annual basis. Within the state plan, the four academic indicators must collectively weigh much more than the non-academic indicators. (Note: “much more than” will likely be the subject of federal regulation.)
    • Academic: The state plan must include the following indicators, measured for all students and subgroups: academic achievement based on annual assessments and the state’s goals; measure of student growth or other statewide academic indicator for elementary/middle schools; graduation rate (high schools); progress in achieving English proficiency for English learners in grades 3-8 and once in high school (the same grade in which the state assesses math/ELA).
    • Non-Academic: The state plan must include at least one measure of student success/school quality. This metric could include but are not limited to: school climate/safety; student/educator engagement; post-secondary readiness; and access to/completion of advanced coursework, among others)
  5. ESSA maintains the 95 percent participation rate. The participation rate is not prescribed as an element of a state’s accountability system. States are still required to annually measure the achievement of at least 95 percent of all students/subgroups in those public schools that use Title I state assessments. States make the decision on how to build the participation rate into the overall accountability plan, providing a clear/understandable rationale for how the 95 percent participation requirement factors into the accountability system.
  6. The Secretary maintains a role in accountability, though there are new limitations/restrictions under ESSA. ESSA is very clear in how it limits the authority of the Secretary. The Secretary may not:
    • Add requirements/criteria that are inconsistent with/outside the scope of Title IA when reviewing state accountability systems 
    • Require a state to add new requirements 
    • Require a state to add/delete specific elements to the standards 
    • Identify specifics assessments or items to be included in assessments 
    • Prescribe indicators that states must use 
    • Prescribe the weight of measures/indicators 
    • Establish a methodology for states to use in differentiating schools Identify minimum-size values 
    • Establish teacher/principal evaluation systems or measures of effectiveness 
    • Prescribe the way states incorporate the 95 percent participation rate requirement into their accountability system
  7. ESSA eliminates federal requirements around school improvement strategies. While maintaining federal guardrails for identification and intervention (see item three), this law does not identify or prescribe specific school improvement strategies. State and local education agencies will determine the appropriate intervention models/approaches. Local education agencies are responsible for developing comprehensive support/improvement plans for any of its schools identified as needing improvement. Those plane must include evidence-based interventions, be based on a school-level needs assessment, identify resource inequities, have the approval of the school, local education agency and state education agency, and the SEA must periodically monitor/review these plans. It is important to note that LEAs may provide students with the option to transfer to another public school and that would include paying transportation costs (up to 5% of their Title I allocation). 
  8.  The state set-aside for school improvement increases from four to seven percent. Under ESSA, states must set aside seven percent (or, if it is a higher amount, the sum of the prior set-aside in addition to the funds the state received under 1003(g)). The reserved dollars are to be used by states to carry out state-wide technical assistance and support for local education agencies. ESSA carries over a ‘hold harmless’ provision, stipulating that state reservations cannot be made until they ensure that local education agencies receive at least as much as they did the year before. 
    •  The hold-harmless provision for the Title I set aside is lifted for the 2017-18 school year. Under NCLB, the hold harmless provision ensured that the state set-aside did not come at the expense of local allocations. That is, the state could take its (mandatory) set aside only after ensuring that LEAs received as much funding as they did in the previous year. In lifting the hold harmless for one year, it means the state will take its set aside first, and if Title I is not funded at robust enough a level, it could leave a shortfall for local allocations. For planning purposes, based on President Obama’s proposed funding level for Title I in FY2017, this set of policy changes would mean a $200 million shortfall for school districts. 
  9. Accountability for English Language Learners is shifted from Title III to Title I. States must demonstrate in their Title I plans that they adopted English Language Proficiency (ELP) standards in speaking, writing, listening and reading and that the standards are aligned with the state academic standards. ESSA requires states to demonstrate that LEAs conduct annual assessments of ELP, aligned to these standards. ESSA’s accountability elements require the inclusion of ELP of English Learners as an indicator, as well as specific ELP goals and measures of interim progress. Related to this, in the case of a student who has not attended the same school within district for at least half of a school year, the performance of such student will be reported, but the district will not be held accountable for the performance of the student for that partial year.