Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA)

The newest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), now renamed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed the House today with a vote of 359-64.  It is expected to fly through the Senate, and President Obama will likely sign the new bill by the end of the year.
NDSS believes that ESSA is an improvement over ESEA’s successor No Child Left Behind (NCLB). We support the ESSA bill and thank the legislators who recognized the importance of maintaining high standards for students with disabilities.
No action is necessary at this point by advocates, but we wanted to inform you of the following noteworthy provisions:
(1) Subgroup accountability in testing: States would still have to test students in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school. They will be required to break out data for whole schools and also for "subgroups" (e.g. students with disabilities), and to identify schools where subgroups are struggling. States will no longer be able to lump subgroups together into "supersubgroups" (e.g. students with disabilities, minority students, etc.). This will result in more accountability toward students with disabilities.
(2) State discretion increased: States and local districts will be able to set their own goals, standards, accountability measures and interventions. Their accountability systems will be required to include a mix of academic indicators and an "additional indicator" (e.g. student engagement or post-secondary readiness). The role of the US Department of Education will be diminished. The shift in power to the states will provide more flexibility in setting up accountability systems and interventions, but will also necessitate more scrutiny by advocates to ensure that students with disabilities are given the best possible opportunities to succeed.
(3) Academic standards: States must adopt "challenging" academic standards (guidelines are given in the bill), but the US Department of Education is prohibited from forcing or encouraging states towards a particular set of standards or assessments (e.g. Common Core will become optional).
(4) Participation rate in testing: Only 1% of students overall may be given alternative assessments (which is about 10% of students in special education). States will be allowed to create their own testing opt-out laws, but the federal requirement for 95% participation in tests will remain. This means that only students with the most significant cognitive disabilities will take the alternate assessments. There is language in ESSA to make sure that parents are fully informed about the testing options and the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) development process.
(5) Eligibility for full diploma: The new ESSA explicitly states that students who take an alternate assessment may not be precluded from attempting to complete the requirements for a full high school diploma.
(6) Universal Design for Learning (UDL): UDL is referenced numerous times throughout the ESSA bill, and states are encouraged to design assessments using UDL principles, to award grants to local education agencies who use UDL and to adopt technology that aligns with UDL.
NDSS is hopeful that the new ESSA bill will improve the education experience for students with Down syndrome and other disabilities. We plan to keep a watchful eye on this new regime and will rely heavily on our advocates to keep us apprised of ESSA implementation at the state and local district level. Please watch the NDSS website for future updates.