NASSP has long advocated for ESEA’s reauthor­ization, and we were successful in including new provisions related to principal preparation and professional development, comprehensive state literacy plans that encompass early childhood education through high school, and additional funding for education technology and training for educators to implement digital learning initiatives. We were also pleased that ESSA eliminates stringent goals for adequate yearly progress and re-examines school turnaround models, the 100 percent proficiency goals, and the one-size-fits-all accountability provisions dictated under NCLB.

The new law, which will take effect on August 1, 2016, immediately ends the conditions of the ESEA flexibility waivers and essentially rolls back the federal role in education by giving more flexibility to states and districts. But these changes may require new state laws and regulations, and states could continue with their current plans unless there is a push for change at the grassroots level from district leaders, educators, families, and students.

These changes make the principal’s voice and advocacy extremely important. Principals should think carefully about how the waivers have been implemented in their state and whether there are provisions they want to keep or discard related to college and career ready standards, accountability, and educator evaluations.

Under ESSA, states must continue to have college and career ready standards and annual assessments in math and reading or language arts in grades 3–8 and once in high school. States would also have to conduct science assessments once in grades 3–5, 6–9, and 10–12. Unlike with the current law, the bill allows states to select a nationally recognized high school exam, such as the ACT or SAT, as the state’s assessment for high school students.

States will also have the flexibility to design their own accountability systems that will be put in place during the 2017–18 school year. At a minimum, goals for all students and student subgroups must include academic achievement on annual assessments, graduation rates, and increases in the percentage of students making progress in achieving English language proficiency. States may choose to set goals for extended-year graduation rates in addition to the four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate. They must also include one of the following indicators in their plan: student engagement, educator engagement, student access to and completion of advanced coursework, postsecondary readiness, or school climate and safety.

In addition, states may use Title II funding to implement teacher and principal evaluation systems, but the law eliminates all of the requirements in the ESEA flexibility waivers, including the consideration of student test scores. This provides principals with the opportunity to advocate for changes to the evaluation system that include a more comprehensive picture of how they support their teachers, engage families and the community, and impact student success.

The structure of Title II remains essentially the same, with a number of allowable uses at the state and district levels to prepare, recruit, and train high-quality teachers and principals. NASSP has worked with the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the American Federation of School Administrators to highlight how little of that funding—only 4 percent—is used for principal professional development. In December 2015, we asked all of our members to fill out a survey describing their best preparation and training experiences. We’ll use that data to advocate before Congress and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to provide guidance to states to ensure that principals are afforded more professional learning opportunities.

One major change in ESSA is that a number of programs under Title IV have been consolidated into a $1.65 billion block grant. In order to receive funding under this section, districts must submit an application to the state and conduct a comprehensive needs assessment to determine how funding should be spent. Of the amount allocated for districts, 20 percent must be used for activities related to a well-rounded education, 20 percent for activities to improve school conditions for learning (such as drug violence prevention programs and mental health services), and up to 60 percent can be spent on activities to support the effective use of technology.

Washington, D.C.-based media outlet Politico has been interviewing chief state school officers about implementation of ESSA and found that most are currently convening staff, state policymakers, state board members, educators, and advocates to discuss next steps. At press time, ED also had begun the process of gathering feedback from stakeholders before issuing regulations or guidance on the new law, which is expected in the next few months. 

We at NASSP will continue to keep our members informed of developments at the federal level, but we also encourage principals to make sure their voices are heard at the state departments of education and among state legislators. Connect with your state association or reach out to our advocacy staff—we would be happy to point you in the right direction.

Amanda Karhuse is the director of advocacy at NASSP. Contact Amanda for more information about ESSA and what it means for you and your school at [email protected]