1-aasa-logo.jpg school innovations and achievement 

This document is one in a series of reports on key aspects of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) produced in a partnership between AASA, The School Superintendents Association and School Innovations & Achievement’s Cabinet Report. The full set of resources is available at aasa.org/AASAESSA.aspx.

 Meaningful differentiation and interventions under ESSA

A primary intention of the Every Student Succeeds Act is subsidiarity: keeping as much responsibility as possible at the level closest to students and parents. But the law also mandates specific state and district interventions for those schools that have been identified as in need of improvement, corrective action or restructuring, or as “a priority or focus school.” The latter phrase simply inserts the terms used for sites needing assistance under the waivers from No Child Left Behind Act requirements that were issued to every state or territory (except for a handful) under then-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

ESSA distinguishes two groups of schools that will be eligible for interventions: those receiving “comprehensive support and improvement” and those that will need to engage in “targeted support and improvement activities.”

Schools in the comprehensive category will be required to develop plans including “evidence-based interventions … based on a school-level needs assessment,” identifying resource inequities, subject to approval by both the local and state education agencies, and subject to monitoring by the state education agency. The law mandates that targeted sites will develop plans with similar components except that the monitoring will be conducted by the LEA and contain additional remedies if the preliminary plan proves inadequate. Progress on these plans will be measured by the accountability indicators built into the state plan as well as “student performance against State-determined long-term goals.”

Schools designated for support and improvement (in either category) will have access to funding for certain direct student services. Among the suggested uses are student support teams; programs aimed at helping schools implement their plans; contracts with outside providers; and “enrollment and participation in academic courses not otherwise available at a student’s school,” credit recovery as well as academic acceleration, personalized learning approaches (such as tutoring), and “activities that assist students in successfully completing postsecondary level instruction and examinations that are accepted for credit at institutions of higher education.”

ESSA classifies those schools needing comprehensive support and improvement as the lowest performing 5 percent according to the state’s method for “meaningful differentiation,” and/or “all public high schools in the State failing to graduate [one–third] or more of their students,” and/or additional schools so categorized by the state, and/or “alternative evidence-based State determined strategies” that can be used by LEAs for assistance. The law itself does not draw a distinction between comprehensive and targeted eligibility, but the regulations suggested for use by the Department of Education certainly do. Generally, the proposed regulatory language (which was entered into the Federal Register in May and is expected to be adopted sometime after the close of the comment period on August 1) focuses on the progress of subgroups for determining if a school should be the beneficiary of assistance that is targeted. Indicators would compare the performance of a subgroup with the population overall or with levels of attainment among other designated populations or use comparative data “determined by the state” as defined in its plan, all predicated on the system for “meaningful differentiation.”

With some minor variations based on conditions, states are expected to set aside approximately 7 percent of their Title I funds to support school interventions. The states will then distribute the money to local education agencies based on the number or percentages of sites in the LEA in need of support, the ones that show the greatest need (according to criteria developed by the state), and those demonstrating “the strongest commitment to using funds … to enable the lowest-performing schools to improve student achievement and student outcomes.”