What to Know about ESSA and English Language Learners

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was passed late last year as the long overdue renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)’s No Child Left Behind. ESSA dramatically reworks NCLB’s accountability measures and moves from federal accountability frameworks to state- and district-driven accountability goals (Kirp, 2015; Klein, 2015).

ESSA also includes significant changes for ELL students and their teachers. First, ESSA increases authorization levels for Title III funds (Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015). The biggest change for ELL policy is that ESSA requires that English language proficiency is included in school and district accountability systems (ESSA, 2015). More specifically, ESSA moves the accountability systems for ELL students from under the Title III frame into Title I, where all other student subgroups accountability systems are housed.

When new ELL students arrive in the country, they have two options for their accountability test scores. The first option, which is the same as the current ESEA law, allows students to be excused for testings during their first year and their scores can be included after they have been in the country for a year. The new option requires that students take the assessments and have their scores reported during the first year, but the scores are not included in calculations for accountability. During the second year, schools must incorporate a  growth measurement, and, in their third year, students’ scores all fully counted (Klein, 2015).

Reaction to ESSA has been mixed from the educational community (McIntyre, 2016). From one vantage point, some argue this a welcome sign that schools must work to support their ELL students and make their success a priority (Sargrad, 2016). After all, graduation rates for ELL students are still trailing other groups of students, despite a jump of almost 6 percent in the past three years (Mitchell, 2016). Others worry that states will continue to fail to prioritize ELL success without more federal guidance (Williams, 2015). Others worry that education agencies simply don’t have the capacity to handle the accountability role given to them by ESSA (Burnette, 2016; McIntyre, 2016). Even those advocates who are excited about the potential for prioritizing ELL success note that accountability and tests are not enough to actually ensure successful programs that improve student outcomes (Fensterwald, 2016). The implementation on a state and district basis will be hugely important for how these changes actually impact classroom teachers.

ESSA will not be fully in place until 2017-2018, so the 2016-2017 school year is a transition between the previous form of ESEA and the new ESSA.

ESSA and English Language Learners

Resources and References

Burnette II, D. (2016, January 20) ESSA poses capacity challenges for state education agencies. Education Week. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/01/20/essa-poses-capacity-challenges-for-state-education.html

Every Student Succeeds Act (2015) S. 1177. http://www.ed.gov/essa

Fensterwald, J. (2016, February 1) New federal law puts spotlight on English learners. EdSource. http://edsource.org/2016/new-federal-law-puts-spotlight-on-english-learners/94222

Kirp, D. L. (2015, December 10) Why the new education law is good for children left behind. [Editorial] New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/10/opinion/why-the-new-education-law-is-good-for-children-left-behind.html?_r=0

Klein, A. (2015, November 30) ESEA reauthorization: The Every Student Succeeds Act explained. Education Week. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2015/11/esea_reauthorization_the_every.html

Mitchell, C. (2016, January 4) English-language learner graduation rates are all over the map. Education Week. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/learning-the-language/2016/01/english-language_learner_gradu.html

Sargrad, S. (2016, January 13) Hope for English-language learners. [Editorial] U.S. News & World Report. http://www.usnews.com/opinion/knowledge-bank/articles/2016-01-13/every-student-succeeds-act-brings-new-hope-for-english-language-learners

Williams, C. (2015, December 2) The Every Student Succeeds Act and dual language. EdCentral. http://www.edcentral.org/essadlls/

A former teacher from a high ELL-incidence district in Massachusetts, Alea is now finishing her doctorate in Education from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She also works at Mawi Learning as the School Partnership Specialist. When she isn't writing her dissertation, Alea can most often be found watching her beloved Red Sox, reading an unabashedly trashy romance novel, or eating her husband's homemade bread.

Category: Standards