“The purpose of this title is to provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps.” Every Student Succeeds Act (P.L. 114-95)
Welcome to the Stakeholder Guide to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA is the newest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—the nation’s major federal law related to public education in grades pre-kindergarten through high school. This guide has been developed to provide Parent Center staff and their advocacy partners with an understanding of key provisions in ESSA so that they may become meaningfully involved in how the law is now planned and implemented by the states. The guide is presented on the Web in several sections (web pages) by key topic, as follows.
On this web page, read about:
On separate web pages, read about:
Authorship | This guide has been produced in a partnership between the Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR) and The Advocacy Institute under a cooperative agreement from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs. The Center for Parent Information and Resources is a project of the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network, Inc.
Introduction and Purpose of This Guide
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the newest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—the nation’s major federal law related to public education in grades pre-kindergarten through high school.
Importance of stakeholder involvement | The planning and initial implementation of ESSA—which will take place over the next few years—requires attention from Parent Centers, their state partners, and others who advocate on behalf of students with disabilities. The law is clear that states must engage in timely and meaningful consultation with stakeholders both in the planning stage as well as implementation (see the section on Stakeholder Engagement).
Impact on students with disabilities | The impact that ESSA will have on students with disabilities will depend in large part on the involvement and scrutiny Parent Centers and other advocates give to the development of state plans, particularly the statewide accountability system that will be used to distinguish between school performance and determine schools in need of improvement. Ensuring that students with disabilities are treated equitably under ESSA must be a top priority as this new law is implemented.
About this guide | We have designed this guide to provide Parent Center staff and their advocacy partners with an understanding of key provisions in ESSA in order to facilitate your involvement. In addition, the guide offers PARENT CENTER ACTION ITEMS that can assist with meaningful involvement.
Awaiting final regulations | This guide has been prepared prior to the finalization of federal regulations to implement ESSA. We recognize that some of the information presented here may be altered by federal regulations in the future. However, we have attempted to provide information aligned with the ESSA statute to limit this impact. Information about ESSA and regulations can be found at:
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“In recognition of the special educational needs of children of low-income families and the impact that concentrations of low-income families have on the ability of local education agencies to support adequate educational programs, the Congress hereby declares it to be the policy of the United States to provide financial assistance…to local education agencies serving areas with concentrations of children from low-income families to expand and improve their educational programs by various means…which contribute particularly to meeting the special educational needs of educationally deprived children.”
Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (Public Law 89-10)
Congress first passed the ESEA in 1965 as part of the nation’s war on poverty. From its inception, ESEA was a civil rights law. The centerpiece of the ESEA, Title I, was designed to improve achievement among the nation’s poor and disadvantaged students by providing federal funds to school districts serving poor students.
Since its initial passage in 1965, ESEA has been reauthorized eight times, most recently in December 2015 as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This latest reauthorization ended more than a decade of requirements put in place in the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act. Federal funds provided to local school districts have risen from $2 billion in 1966 to $14.9 billion in 2016.
A comprehensive history of the ESEA prior to passage of ESSA is available at:
- (PDF, 1 MB) | https://www.air.org/sites/default/files/downloads/report/Title-I-at-50-rev.pdf
ESSA and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
The ESEA and the IDEA are two of the nation’s most important federal laws relating to the education of children in public schools. In school year 2013–2014, some 50.0 million students were enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools. Of those, 6.4 million were receiving special education services under the IDEA, or 13 percent of all public school students.
ESSA states that its purpose is to close educational achievement gaps for historically low-performing groups of students. Achievement gaps are deepest and most prevalent among students with disabilities, low-income students, minority students, and English learners. Many students belong to two or more of these groups, heightening the need for additional supports and services to close these gaps. For example, students with disabilities who are low-income may be served by both special education and Title I. Students with disabilities who are English learners may be served by both special education and English language acquisition programs. In some cases, students may be served by special education, Title I, and English language acquisition programs. A student’s eligibility for one of these programs does not preclude the student from receiving services in another. While some have attempted to label this as “double-dipping,” in fact just the opposite is correct. Students facing multiple challenges need all of the benefits that can be derived from these programs.
IDEA focuses on the individual child and seeks to ensure specialized services for children with disabilities so that they may benefit from education. Both IDEA and ESSA require students with disabilities to be included in all state and districtwide assessments—including assessments required by ESSA—with appropriate accommodations and alternate assessments where necessary and as indicated in their respective individualized education programs (IEPs).
In the latest reauthorization of IDEA in 2004, Congress stated that:
“Almost 30 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by having high expectations for such children and ensuring their access to the general education curriculum in the regular classroom, to the maximum extent possible, in order to meet developmental goals and, to the maximum extent possible, the challenging expectations that have been established for all children; and be prepared to lead productive and independent adult lives, to the maximum extent possible.” [IDEA Section 601 (c)(5)(A)]
More recently, on the 40th anniversary of IDEA, the U.S. Department of Education distributed guidance to states that further clarified access to the general education curriculum, stating that:
“To help make certain that children with disabilities are held to high expectations and have meaningful access to a State’s academic content standards, we write to clarify that an individualized education program (IEP) for an eligible child with a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) must be aligned with the State’s academic content standards for the grade in which the child is enrolled.”
The Department went on to say “This interpretation also appropriately harmonizes the concept in the IDEA regulations of ‘general education curriculum (i.e., the same curriculum as for nondisabled children),’ with the ESEA statutory and regulatory requirement that the same academic content standards must apply to all public schools and children in the State, which includes children with disabilities.”
From the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Dear Colleague Letter on Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), November 16, 2015. Available online (PDF, 400 kb) at:
The linkages between individualized services under IDEA and a state’s academic content standards required under ESSA clearly establish the need for the interests of students with disabilities to receive equitable treatment in the planning and implementation of state accountability systems.
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Structure of the ESSA
The ESSA is made up of nine titles. Most of the provisions that are most important to students with disabilities are found in Title I, Part A.
The titles within ESSA are:
- Title I: Improving Basic Programs Operated by the State and Local Educational Agencies
- Title II: Preparing, Training and Recruiting Teachers, Principals or Other School Leaders
- Title III: Language Instruction for English Learners and Immigrant Students
- Title IV: 21st Century Schools
- Title V: State Innovation and Local Flexibility (rural education)
- Title VI: Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native Education
- Title VII: Impact Aid
- Title VIII: General Provisions
- Title IX: Education for the Homeless (McKinney-Vento Act) and Other Laws
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The timeline of initial ESSA planning and implementation spans several years (see below). Stakeholders should pay particular attention to the portion of the timeline that involves the development and submission of state plans to the U.S. Department of Education. For states with ESEA Flexibility (also known as “waivers”), those state plans became null and void on August 1, 2016. Therefore, the 2016-2017 school year is one of transition. Please note that the timeline for initial implementation may change when the U.S. Department of Education issues final federal regulations.
2015-2016 School Year | Timeline for Implementation
December 2015 | Congress passes and President signs ESSA
January 2016 | USED begins development of federal implementing regulation
March-April 2016 | USED convenes Negotiated Rulemaking Committee
May 2016 | Draft regulations go to Congress for review
June-July 2016 | Proposed regulations published in Federal Register for 60-day public comment period
2016-2017 School Year | Timeline for Implementation
August-September 2016 | ESEA flexibility null and void;
IDEA provision requiring special education teachers to be highly qualified eliminated, replaced with ESSA requirements
October-November 2016 | Federal final regulations published;
Competitive grant programs take effect based on new program structure
December 2016-May 2017 | States develop new plans and submit to USED;
USED must approve within 120 days
January 2017 | New President and Education Secretary
December 2016-July 2017 | Schools identified as Priority/Focus must continue to implement approved interventions and states must continue to provide technical assistance and support
June-July 2017 | Formula grant program takes effect for upcoming school year
2017-2018 School Year | Timeline for Implementation
August 2017-July 2018 | New state accountability systems fully implemented
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In order to receive funding under Title I, each state must submit a state plan to the U.S. Department of Education (USED). ESSA lays out requirements for developing the plan and what the plan must contain (Section 1111).
It is essential for stakeholders to become involved in the process. The state plan, once approved by USED, will remain in effect for many years unless significant changes are proposed, making it even more critical to ensure equity for students with disabilities in the development stage.
The state plan requirements include several elements important to promoting improved achievement and providing equity for students with disabilities. Among these are:
Long-term goals and measurements of interim progress on statewide assessments and graduation rates.
Minimum subgroup size for including student subgroups in accountability.
How the state will deal with schools that fail to assess at least 95% of all students and each student subgroup.
How states will support schools identified for comprehensive support and improvement and targeted support and improvement.
Steps the state has taken to incorporate the principles of universal design for learning, to the extent feasible, in the development of its assessments, including any alternate assessments aligned with alternate achievement standards.
How the state will support school districts to improve school conditions for student learning, including through reducing incidences of bullying and harassment; the overuse of discipline practices that remove students from the classroom; and the use of aversive behavioral interventions that compromise student health and safety.
How the state will support school districts in meeting the needs of students at all levels of schooling (particularly students in the middle grades and high school), including the provision of effective transitions of students to middle grades and high school to decrease the risk of students dropping out.
How the state will improve the skills of teachers, principals, and other school leaders in identifying students with specific learning needs and providing instruction based on the needs of such students, including in schools with children with disabilities.
How the state is coordinating its plans for administering the included programs, other programs authorized by ESSA and IDEA, the Rehabilitation Act, Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, the Head Start Act, the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act, the Education Sciences Reform Act, the Education Technical Assistance Act, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act.
Other factors the state determines appropriate to provide students an opportunity to achieve the knowledge and skills described in the challenging state academic standards.
In developing state plans, states must engage in timely and meaningful consultation with stakeholders. Stakeholders must reflect the geographic diversity of the state and include the following individuals and entities (Section 1111 (a)(1)(A); emphasis added):
- The Governor, or appropriate officials from the Governor’s office;
- Members of the State legislature;
- Members of the State board of education (if applicable);
- LEAs, including LEAs in rural areas;
- Representatives of Indian tribes located in the State;
- Teachers, principals, other school leaders, paraprofessionals, specialized instructional support personnel, and organizations representing such individuals;
- Charter school leaders, if applicable;
- Parents and families;
- Community-based organizations;
- Civil rights organizations, including those representing students with disabilities, English learners, and other historically underserved students;
- Institutions of higher education (IHEs);
- Employers; and
- the public.
States must allow the public at least 30 days to comment on the plan before submitting plans to the U.S. Department of Education for review and approval. (Section 1111 (a)(8))
PARENT CENTER ACTION ITEMS
Contact your state’s department of education and request information on how the state will facilitate stakeholder engagement in the development of the ESSA state plan. (Ideally, states have already posted ESSA information on their websites.)
Ask for specifics, like timelines and processes to be used, and how all of the required stakeholder individuals and organizations will be ensured of representation.
Make sure stakeholder engagement processes are fully accessible to people with disabilities. Websites should comply with Section 508 Standards, meetings should be held in accessible facilities and accommodations such as interpreters should be provided.
Contact your state’s Special Education Advisory Panel and ask how the Panel will be involved in the development of the state’s ESSA state plan.
Join (or form) coalitions of groups that advocate for people with disabilities or, more broadly, civil rights coalitions. The Wisconsin Survival Coalition is one such coalition.
ESSA does not stipulate exactly how states are to go about accomplishing the required “timely and meaningfully consultation with stakeholders.” It’s up to stakeholders to determine whether states’ activities do, in fact, create meaningful consultation. States have adopted a variety of approaches, among them:
Alaska is using a unique virtual process for stakeholder engagement powered by Powernoodle, allowing board leadership and staff to use modern cloud-based technology to engage a large number of stakeholders, which allows voices representing Alaska’s vast 685,000 square mile geography, 54 school districts, and culturally-rich population to be heard.
Colorado education officials and representatives from key stakeholder groups undertook a statewide tour to gather the public’s input and feedback on how Colorado should implement ESSA. Feedback from the six-city ESSA listening events will be compiled and used by ESSA working group committees to inform the state’s plan.
Kentucky is hosting 11 town hall meetings across the state to provide an opportunity for all education shareholders to provide input to the Kentucky Department of Education on the design of a new education accountability system.
New Hampshire’s Department of Education is facilitating advisory teams of educators, policymakers, partners, and other stakeholders to gather input into the plan design. Each team will focus on specific policy areas.
Wisconsin has established an Equity in ESSA Stakeholder Council to elicit input on the state’s implementation of ESSA. The Council will meet six times between August 2016 and March 2017.
A Word About Web Accessibility | Posting information on the web is one common way states seek to engage stakeholders and solicit comments on proposals. However, the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education is receiving a steadily increasing number of complaints regarding the accessibility of state departments of education and school districts websites. Some of the issues cited in these complaints include: not providing images with alternative texts, not being accessible to individuals with vision impairments, and not working with assistive technologies.
In the course of planning and implementing ESSA, stakeholders should notify their state educational agency if their ESSA website is not accessible to people with disabilities.
The WCAG 2.0 (https://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/wcag) has become the internationally recognized benchmark for Web accessibility.
- Easy Checks is one tool that can be used to check Web accessibility. It’s available at:
- Another tool, WAVE, is available at:
Resources to Support Meaningful Stakeholder Engagement
The widely accepted definition of “stakeholder engagement” is the process by which an organization involves people who may be affected by the decisions it makes or who can influence the implementation of its decisions. Margaret Wheatley, the renowned leadership and management expert, put it differently with her first principle for growing healthy communities: “People will support what they create.”
The Coalition for Community Schools suggests these four principles to guide stakeholder engagement:
Inclusion. Engage a wide range of people and organizations with a stake in education to recognize the value of diverse perspectives.
Accessibility. Make it easy for people to participate, to understand what is happening, and to be heard.
Sustainability. See stakeholder engagement as a continuous process involving ongoing dialogue—not as a one-time proposition.
Focus on results. Use engagement as a steppingstone toward building long-term partnerships that can help school systems get results that matter—from improved attendance and school climate to more extensive parent and student engagement.
Additional Resources on Stakeholder Engagement
Dear Colleague Letter from U.S. Education Secretary
Coalition for Community Schools
Collaborative for Student Success: “Understanding ESSA” Website
Features information about ESSA implementation activities in every state.
Leading by Convening: A Blueprint for Authentic Engagement
National Association of State Directors of Special Education, 2014.
Let’s Get This Conversation Started
Council of Chief State School Officers, June 2016 (PDF, 1.3 MB)
Serving on Groups that Make Decisions: A Guidebook for Families
Available in English and Spanish. Wisconsin Family Assistance Center for Education, Training, and Support (WI FACETS), 2015.
English | http://www.servingongroups.org/guidebook
Spanish (PDF, 441 kb) | http://tinyurl.com/gus62c9
The Stakeholder Guide to the ESSA is presented in separate sections. You’ve just finished Section 1. Which section would you like to read now?
Fact Sheets in Our ESSA Series
CPIR offers a series of fact sheets on ESSA that may interest you. They are:
- Academic Assessments and Students with Disabilities
- Assessments for Students with the Most Significant Cognitive Disabilities
- Statewide Accountability System and School Support and Improvement Activities
- Amendments to IDEA Made by ESSA
- Annual State and Local Report Cards under ESSA