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Every Student Succeeds Act (2015)

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is education reform legislation designed to improve public schools while transferring much of the power to hold schools accountable from the federal government to individual states. The act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 9, 2015.

The act replaced No Child Left Behind (NCLB), passed by Congress in 2001, which set a deadline for all states to demonstrate that every student was proficient in language and math. The act established standardized testing as a means to gauge states' and schools' progress, created accountability measures for states, schools, and teachers, and included punitive measures for those that didn't meet expectations. However, NCLB drew criticism for putting so much emphasis on standardized test scores, and for granting so much authority over public education to the federal government.

ESSA allows states to create their own accountability systems and their own teacher evaluation systems, and allows states to decide how to fix the poorest-performing schools. NCLB had spelled out specific punitive measures and steps states were required to take to address poor performance.

The new law still requires students be tested in reading and math every year from third through eighth grade and once in high school. Schools also must still report the results of those tests, and break the numbers down to reflect performance by race, economic status, special needs students, and English-language learners. However, states have more flexibility in determining what form those tests take; they also have more leeway in dealing with schools where large numbers of students decline to take the tests.

In addition, the new law made permanent a competitive grant program established by the Obama administration that is designed to encourage and financially assist states that bolster their early childhood education programs for disadvantaged children.


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