Recently, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told the Council of Chief State Schools Officers (CCSSO) that states should continue to move forward with their ESSA plans. However, accountability regulations may be significantly changed. What exactly does this mean for schools?

The Difference between NCLB, ESSA and Common Core

In 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was implemented, replacing the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Due to the rapid transition from NCLB to ESSA, it is important for educators and vendors to be aware of the key differences between the two. Steve Rowley, CEO of Acumen Partners, and with Michael Campbell, vice president of Acumen Partners, presented the latest updates on ESSA in the webinar, “Making Sense of ESSA: What You Need to Know,” co-hosted by edWeb.net and MCH Strategic Data.

To start, Rowley addressed any confusion regarding the Common Core State Standards. ESSA did not replace the Common Core, and although the states are required to have standards, it prohibits the Department of Education from forcing the adoption of a particular set of standards. “This is a question that we receive a lot,” he said. Since the Common Core is not a federal initiative, it is unaffected by ESSA.

A key characteristic of ESSA is that the federal government has acknowledged that many decisions belong at the state level—something the Trump administration supports.

Accountability Plans

States will now be responsible for accountability, and each state will have to submit their own accountability plan to be peer reviewed.

Under the Obama Administration’s accountability template, accountability systems (supported by tracking and data technology) involve four primary indicators: proficiency on state tests; English language proficiency; another academic factor that can be broken out by subgroup; and a “wild card” item that each state can choose within certain guidelines.

States can also set additional benchmarks; for example, these may allow for certain high school benchmarks which would not apply to elementary or middle schools. Each state must be aware of how to accurately track their benchmarks.

DeVos has kept in place the Obama administration’s timeline for submitting the plans, which includes one early bird deadline on April 3 and one later deadline on September 18.

As of press time, Education Week reports that 17 states plus the District of Columbia have told the department that they are shooting to have their plans ready in time for the April date.

But…Accountability could Change

Though DeVos says states should move along with their ESSA plans, the Obama administration’s accountability template part of ESSA is currently under review by DeVos and Congress.

According to DeVos, she and her team are reviewing the Obama administration’s ESSA accountability template because some measures may not be “absolutely necessary.” The new department may release a revised or completely re-written template for states by mid-March this year.

Another potential change is that DeVos’ department may also allow a state or group of states to work together to write their own template through the CCSSO.

If DeVos does allow a state or group of states to devise their own accountability template, it may prove difficult for peer reviewers to determine quality and manage expectations due to a lack of uniformity. However, DeVos and her department could also change the guidelines for peer review—something her camp has not yet mentioned.

(Next page: What can schools and educators do concerning the ESSA?)