Century Foundation Reports Examines ESSA Learner Accountability Provisions
Now that all fifty states and the District of Columbia have received formal federal approval of their Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans, the work of implementing the 2015 law—the United States’ primary K–12 education investment—is fully underway.
Now that all fifty states and the District of Columbia have received formal federal approval of their Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans, the work of implementing the 2015 law—the United States’ primary K–12 education investment—is fully underway. As that work continues, however, advocates for educational equity should keep close eye on ways that ESSA’s structure creates new, unforeseen challenges for historically underserved students. This is particularly true as far as English learners (ELs) are concerned, given that ESSA made significant changes to how schools are held accountable for these students’ performance. Specifically, there is some evidence that ESSA’s shift of EL accountability from the district to the school level could make these students less of a priority for many schools.
Replacing No Child Left Behind
Like most of ESSA’s big changes, the law’s EL accountability reforms are a response to troubles with No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the 2001 law it replaced. Of course, these problems weren’t intentionally caused. No Child Left Behind was initially heralded as an advance for English learners in U.S. schools. Its Title III provisions provided new federal funding dedicated to serving ELs. The structure was intuitive: ELs had long been marginalized by—and in—U.S. schools. So Title III provided dedicated funding and focused accountability that would force districts to prioritize these children’s linguistic and academic development. Districts receiving Title III dollars were required to meet Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives (AMAOs): if a district’s ELs showed low academic and linguistic progress over a number of years, the district would face...