BY LAUREN AGORATUS, M.A.
WHAT IS THE ESSA?
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. ESSA is replacing No Child Left Behind (NCLB.) The Council of Chief State School Officers has a chart and narrative on the crosswalk between ESSA and NCLB (see Resources). Some components of the previous law have been kept, some were revised, and other pieces are new. Here is an overview on the implications of ESSA implementation for children with disabilities which includes:
• Academic standards • Accountability
• State Assessments • Reporting requirements
• Discipline, including elimination of restraints
WHAT IS THE SAME AS BEFORE?
There is an emphasis on reporting outcomes and accountability. Accountability is required in reading, math, science, graduation rates, and one indicator of “school quality or child success determined by the state.” This includes standardized assessments requiring 95% participation rates, except for up to 1% of all students who have significant cognitive disabilities and will take alternate assessments. Families must be informed how this may affect getting a high school diploma but all children, including those with significant cognitive disabilities, have the right to attempt completion requirements for a regular diploma. All students with disabilities “must be provided with appropriate accommodations to participate in state assessments.”
WHAT WAS RETAINED BUT REVISED?
Students can still take an alternate assessment but the portfolio format is gone. There are still school/district report cards but the information is different. There are now long term and progress towards interim goal requirements. States must be able to compare data on results for children with disabilities and those without. The data must be disaggregated so that individual students cannot be identified. Subgroups are: “economically disadvantaged students; students from major racial and ethnic groups; children with disabilities; and English learners.” The state uses a formula of the “minimum number of students…to be included” or the “n-size”. This means that the “n” factor must be large enough to be statistically significant to provide guidance for improvement. There is a specific measure of Progress in Achieving English Language Proficiency. There are also special provisions for children who may have a disability and are also an English language learner.
WHAT ARE IMPORTANT PROVISIONS FOR STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES?
Academic standards: Academic standards must be created and all children except the up to 1% with significant cognitive disabilities must use the state’s academic achievement standards. Alternate standards for students with significant cognitive disabilities must still be aligned with the academic achievement standards; students with disabilities must be able to access the general curriculum, and schools must ensure that students with disabilities are on track for “post-secondary education and employment.”
Discipline, including elimination of restraints: Districts are now required to report on discipline, including bullying and what’s being done to reduce the inappropriate use of restraints, seclusion, and aversive interventions. Research has shown that restraints are not only ineffective as behavioral modification, but are experienced as trauma by the children subjected to them. Supporting Safe and Healthy Student funding can help improve school climate and support implementation of PBIS (positive behavioral interventions and supports.)
Charter schools: Charter schools are considered LEAs (local education agencies), so are mandated to meet these requirements. In addition, some charter school funding must be used for children with disabilities and states will monitor the ability of charter schools to “recruit, retain, and service children with disabilities.”
Graduation rates including students with disabilities: Graduation rates for schools are key indicators of success. Children who graduate through extended IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) eligibility are counted in the four-year graduation rate. However, if “extended-year adjusted cohort graduation rates” are used, long-term and interim progress “measurements must be more rigorous.” Although “highly qualified” teachers are no longer required, there are reporting requirements for “ (1) inexperienced teachers, principals, and other school leaders; (2) teachers teaching with emergency or provisional credentials; and (3) teachers who are not teaching in the subject or field for which the teacher is certified.”
Assistance to Schools/Districts: Districts will receive assistance if needed, either through Comprehensive Support (examined every three years) or Targeted Support and Improvement (annually). There are also requirements for parent notification, including the reason the school was identified as needing assistance, and parental involvement. This would include partnering with families on a systemic level and shared decision-making.
HOW CAN FAMILIES GET INVOLVED?
There are many ways parents can get involved in these new changes that will impact how their children receive special education services. In their district, they can contact the Special Services department and parent groups if there is one. There are additional parental involvement provisions for Title 1 schools, which have high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families (see Resources.) Overall, there is flexibility and state level decision-making that will be happening over these next months. Families need to think about the things that students with disabilities need in terms of academic and support services and accountability provisions, and speak up about implementation that will benefit their children with disabilities. Until the state plans are in place, what will or will not benefit students with disabilities in a particular state is not clear. Other ways to help change the system include:
• Contacting the Parent Training and Information (PTI) Center in their state. There is a federally designated PTI in every state (see Resources below).
• Attending meetings of the State Special Education Advisory Panel in their state. There is an opportunity for public comments at these meetings.
• Attending meetings of the State Board of Education. There is also an opportunity for public comment at these meetings.
Please note that the Center for Parent Information and Resources has various resources on ESSA (see “Resources”) and is developing a stakeholder guide on topics like testing accommodations, universal design for learning, and students with the most significant cognitive disabilities— so be sure to check their website often.
Families of children with special needs should be aware of the new provisions of the law which will affect special education. Parents in partnership with education professionals will help their children reach their best potential. •
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lauren Agoratus, M.A. is the parent of a child with multiple disabilities. She serves as the Coordinator for Family Voices-NJ and as the central/southern coordinator in her state’s Family-to-Family Health Information Center, both housed at the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN) at www.spanadvocacy.org
LEARNING MORE : THE EVERY STUDENT SUCCEEDS ACT FOR CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES
ASSOCIATION OF UNIVERSITY CENTER ON DISABILITIES
Complete overview of ESSA; Slides 6-14 have discussions on ESSA and implications for special education found at:
COUNCIL OF CHIEF STATE SCHOOL OFFICERS
Crosswalk between ESSA and NCLB Narrative:
Comparison Of Select Elements Of NCLB and ESSA:
STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION
Found under State Departments of Education:
STATE ADVISORY PANELS: SPECIAL EDUCATION
State by State locations and
LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE EDUCATION FUND
Parent and Family Engagement Provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act
Special thanks to Debra Jennings and Diana Autin of the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network in providing resources for this article.