ESSA Update: Federal Focus


This update is meant to assist member districts with information about ESSA and key information about its impact on schools and districts in Illinois. The following is a federal overview from CEC.

To further the effort, CEC will host a live chat session regarding ESSA from 10 a.m.-11 a.m. on May 9. This session is free to CEC member districts. Sign up today and more detailed information will be provided in the coming weeks.

Federal Background

In December 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law, replacing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESSA provides greater flexibility to states, districts, and schools on issues from school report cards, to assessments and standards, to supporting low-performing schools. Key parts of the law begin implementation in the 2017-18 school year.

Current Status of ESSA

While many thought ESSA was repealed, that is not the case. The law remains intact as signed. However, Congress did repeal the ESSA regulations using a legislative device called the Congressional Review Act. The President signed the repeal of the regulations into law. The ESSA law still stands, but there is now more flexibility provided to states in terms of how they implement the law. States may (but are not required) to use the regulatory language that was repealed. The real impact of the repeal will be known as states begin to submit and implement their plans.

Next Steps in Illinois

Each state will submit a State Plan to the Department of Education about how ESSA will be implemented. Illinois began its work on the ESSA plan in April 2016 with listening tours to gather input and feedback. On March 15, 2017, the Illinois Board of Education adopted the ESSA State Plan for Illinois. The plan was submitted to the U.S. Department of Education by April 3, which began a 120-day review period.

Key Provisions of ESSA

Assessments and Standards: ESSA intended to provide more flexibility and control to states, rather than the federal government, over testing and standards.

  • States must still adopt challenging standards in math, English, and science, but states have more control regarding these standards;
  • States also must continue to administer an annual assessment to all students in grades 3-8 in math and English, one annual assessment in science for certain grade spans, and once in high school.

Accountability: ESSA eliminates AYP and allows states to set their own goals for academic achievement. These goals can include both long-term and shorter, interim goals.

Four indicators must be used for school accountability.

  • For elementary and middle schools, these indicators must include: test scores in Reading and Math, English language learner proficiency, at least one academic measure (such as a growth goal), and one non-academic measure.
  • For high schools, the indicators must include: test scores in Reading and math, English language learner proficiency, graduation rates, and one non-academic measure.

Opportunities in Title Funds: States are given more flexibility around the use of Title funds, allowing states to prioritize funding based upon local needs.

Title I: ESSA lowers the threshold so that high schools with at least 50% low-income students would be prioritized to receive Title I funds. States must now use up to 7% of their Title I funds to focus on identified low-performing schools (see Low Performing Schools section below). Finally, states and districts have increased flexibility over other Title funds, and 100% of Title II or IV funds may be transferred to Title I.

Title II: ESSA provides exciting opportunities to use Title II funds to support school and teacher leaders. States may use up to 3% of Title II funds for leadership development programs, such as developing programs that promote multiple career paths for instructional leaders, developing induction and mentor programs for teachers and school leaders, providing professional development to principals, and establishing leadership academies. Title II funds can be used more expansively for professional development of all staff, including teachers of every subject, library media specialists, and paraprofessionals.

Title III: Accountability measures for English Learners (EL) are now incorporated into Title I instead of Title III. Title III now ensures states set entry and exit procedures for EL students, provide funds for the professional development to support EL students, monitor and provide assistance to recipients of subgrants used to support EL instruction, and allow for incentives to recipients of subgrants who significantly improve achievement of EL students.

Title IV: ESSA eliminated 49 Title IV and V programs that previously supported the comprehensive needs of students. Still, Title IV funds under a block grant titled “Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant” (SSAEG) program authorizes spending in three key areas:

  1. providing all students with access to a well-rounded education
  2. improving school conditions for student learning
  3. improving the use of technology.

Mental health, safety, nutrition, and physical education programs, as well as professional development for trauma-informed practices, can be funded using SSAEG monies. These funds are distributed based upon the Title I formula, which will prioritize schools serving low-income students.

Low-Performing Schools: Using the state accountability system, states must identify low performing schools beginning in 2018-19.

Two categories of schools are to be identified by the state. “Comprehensive Support and Improvement Schools,” which rate as the lowest 5% performing schools in the state and any high schools with graduation rates less than 67%. “Targeted Support and Improvement Schools,” which are schools with large achievement gaps. These schools are eligible for additional Title I funds and must submit improvement plans either to the state or district, depending upon the category. States have tremendous flexibility in identifying schools and in determining interventions or supports due to lack of defined federal requirements.

Evidence-Based Practices: While NCLB emphasized the use of “scientifically-based research,” ESSA has instead required the use of “evidence-based interventions.” Evidence-based interventions fall into four tiers based upon the quality of research supporting the intervention: strong, moderate, promising, and strong theory. This new definition allows greater freedom to states and districts to select programs or supports that may yet have significant data to underpin the approach, and more interventions are now possible under this new definition. Evidence-based interventions must be used for a number of ESSA provisions, including low-performing schools identified as Comprehensive Support or Targeted Support schools, effective parent and family engagement plans, school leader residency programs, induction and mentoring programs, professional development using Title II funds, early childhood sub grant programs, and others.

As always, CEC can support districts in many of these areas. If you are interested in learning more, please contact David Osta at

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