Every Student Succeeds Act Overview

The right to education is a fundamental human right, which is legally guaranteed to all without discrimination. Unfortunately, it is not always true even for the most prosperous countries that should be able to provide education to all of their citizens, regardless of their racial, ethnic or social background. In this case, the government involvement is needed to tackle the problem.

The current version of the national education law is the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). It was signed by President Barack Obama in December 2015 with great support from both liberal and conservative political sides. The ESSA is going to be fully implemented in the 2017-2018 school year. According to Korte (2015), “Lawmakers have touted the new law as a more flexible approach to student testing and school accountability, once again making states responsible for fixing under-performing schools”. The law is meant to replace the highly criticized No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act which proved to be ineffective. The NCLB Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2001. Over the years, however, the bill attracted a lot of criticism from both the Democrats and the Republicans, as well as teachers, parents, and school administrators. The NCLB Act made emphasis on standardized testing as a measure of students’ achievement and required that all schools receiving federal funding test their students annually. Some critics of the system argued that there are several issues with that kind of approach that should be addressed.

First, the emphasis on standardized testing narrows down the focus of both teachers and students to a more specific set of skills, in order to perform well on the test, which might prevent students from a better understanding of the overall curriculum. This is often referred to as “teaching to the test” (Roach, 2014). While this approach might help achieve higher scores on the test, it ultimately diverts from the essence of the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which was supposed to increase the quality of education.

Second, the failure to make progress on the tests would entail a punishment in the form of cutting the federal funds rate. Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) was used as the measure of academic student performance. Jackson (2015) points out that “Corrective action and restructuring can mean less funding for schools that don’t meet AYP and proficiency requirements, but are in dire need of funding for basic programs”, and that “It can also lead to outright school takeovers by the state government”. The critics of the No Child Left Behind Act believed that the punitive measures for not meeting AYP standards are too extreme. Also, some of the critics felt that the standardized testing system does not account for different factors that might affect overall student success. While some students might not perform well on the test, they can excel in other areas of their education. There are also external factors that affect student performance, such as their home life, that should be accounted for.

There is a number of ways in which the Every Student Succeeds Act is different from its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act. The new law eliminates Adequate Yearly Progress system. Despite the fact that states are still required to test students, they now have more freedom to decide when and how those tests will be administered and set their own goals and standards. The role of the tests has also been significantly changed. For example, in addition to the tests, states are also required to include other nonacademic indicators in measuring students’ success, such as school climate and student or educator engagement. The ESSA will also provide additional funding to help states organize and improve their testing system, and the penalties and consequences for not meeting the requirements are largely diminished (Brown, Boser, Sargrad, & Marchitello, 2016). Teacher performance is also not going to be evaluated based on the test scores, which should disincentivize teachers from focusing exclusively on preparation for the test at the expense of other aspects of the education process.

The original Elementary and Secondary Education Act was reauthorized at regular intervals of about every five years (Gamson, McDermott, & Reed, 2015). Therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that the ESSA should be evaluated after a similar period of time. The changes in the new policy might not give an immediate result.

A single method of the policy evaluation is usually not enough. For a better understanding of the impact of the policy, both quantitative and qualitative methods should be used in the evaluation. While academic and nonacademic performance indicators can be the basis of the evaluation, other methods should include surveys and interviews with students and educators.

There is no agreement as to who should be responsible for the evaluation process. The research should probably be conducted on both federal and local levels. Some researchers insist that outside agencies should carry out the studies so that results will not be inconsistent.

The end results of the policy evaluation should demonstrate if the new Every Student Succeeds Act is an improvement on its predecessor. The act does not provide for the punitive measures for the schools failing to meet the required standards so the local failure would mean the failure of the policy as a whole. If the policy is not successful enough, it should not be reauthorized without changes.

A number of sides can be seen as potential beneficiaries of the policy evaluation. If the act proves to be effective, all students should benefit greatly, especially, at-risk students. The evaluation of the ESSA is also beneficial to the teachers and school administrators, as well as the legislators who developed the act.

There are some ethical and social concerns that should be considered in the evaluation. According to Williams (2015), “The primary purpose of evaluation is not to generate knowledge but to elicit and make public the essential value and worth of programmes or policies”. Therefore, the policy should be judged on how it benefits the students and if it provides an equal opportunity to all the students.

Financial legislation affected the development of the policy because it relies on federal funding. The ESSA was supported by the conservatives, who celebrated the fact that more power is given to the states. The liberals also supported the act as they felt it gives more opportunity to the minority and at-risk students.

The Every Student Succeeds Act was implemented with support from both political sides. Its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act proved to be ineffective and highly unpopular. It is too early to say if the new act is a definite improvement, but there can be some cautious optimism.


Brown, C., Boser, U., Sargrad, S., & Marchitello, M. (2016). Implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act: Toward a coherent, aligned assessment system. Center for American Progress.

Gamson, D. A., McDermott, K. A., & Reed, D. S. (2015). The Elementary and Secondary Education Act at Fifty: Aspirations, effects, and limitations. The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, 1(3), 1–29.

Jackson, A. (2015). 3 big ways No Child Left Behind failed. Web.

Korte, G. (2015). The Every Student Succeeds Act vs. No Child Left Behind: What’s changed? Web.

Roach, R. (2014). Teaching to the Test. Diverse Issues in Higher Education, 31(3), 32.

Williams, L.G. (2015). Review of ethics principles and guidance in evaluation and research. Web.

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