Image1Over the next several weeks, Tennesseans have the opportunity to offer community feedback on the state’s ESSA plan at town hall meetings hosted by the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) or on the TDOE’s website.

But if you aren’t closely following federal education policy you may be wondering, “What is ESSA?How do you even pronounce that? And most importantly, what does this mean for Tennessee students?”

Don’t worry – you’re definitely not alone. But by the end of this post, you’ll have answers to all those questions and more.

What is ESSA?

ESSA (pronounced EH-suh) is an acronym for the Every Student Succeeds Act, a federal education law, crafted by Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray, among others. ESSA replaces No Child Left Behind, notably shifting more responsibility for providing a quality education to the states, instead of the federal government.

Great, ESSA’s a federal education law – how does it affect Tennessee?

ESSA requires each state to develop a plan to make sure its public schools are showing growth and achievement for all students. It gives states more autonomy over public education—but at the same time more responsibility. So, Tennessee has been coming up with a plan, in line with federal guidelines and regulations, and that it will share with community members for feedback.

Image3Okay. So what are some of the things in Tennessee’s plan?

Tennessee’s proposed system would give parents and community members a more nuanced view of how schools and districts are performing. It also would give school and districts more and more specific data about the achievement and growth of all their students.

Under ESSA, Tennessee’s new plan will look at student achievement, growth, graduation rates, and data for Tennessee’s historically underserved populations. These requirements are already part of Tennessee’s district accountability system. ESSA also requires that state accountability systems consider progress for English Learners (EL), a new factor for Tennessee. Finally, ESSA asks states to include a student success indicator, a measurement that pushes states to look beyond test scores for measuring schools and districts.

Tennessee’s plan also specifies that schools and districts will be expected to make improvements on those factors. Based on performance, schools and districts will receive a grade ranging from A to F. It’s important to note that this grading system isn’t from ESSA, it is actually from a new Tennessee law. However, this law is in line with ESSA requirements. The A- F grading system will take effect in schools in the 2018-19 school year. This also is the first time that there will be an accountability framework for Tennessee schools; in the past, only districts have been evaluated this way.

Why and how will Tennessee consider data for historically underserved populations?

While seeing a school’s overall achievement or growth for students is one good way to understand school and district data, these averages sometimes hide gaps between different groups of students. ESSA asks states to pull out data for specific groups and see how all different types of students (students from major ethnic and racial groups, economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, and English Learners) are performing to make sure no one is falling behind.

Schools must show that they are reaching these subgroups under Tennessee ESSA plan. Forty percent of their grade will be based on how well districts taught those populations.

What happens if the students in some schools are not doing well?

Image2Tennessee labels schools that fall in the bottom 5 percent of absolute student achievement as priority schools. For priority schools, there are multiple ways to improve, such as district-led intervention, placement in the Achievement School District or Innovation Zone, or tailored intervention from the TDOE. Under ESSA, these priority schools would get more tailored help and support, as well as federal funds, to improve.

Wait, I have more questions and ideas about ESSA and Tennessee!

Here’s a great way to get answers. Attend an upcoming ESSA town hall in your area or provide feedback online. Learn and share more as Tennessee builds its plan, aligned with ESSA, to advance student achievement.

Bristol, January 11, 5 p.m. – Tennessee High School
Chattanooga, January 17, 5:30 p.m. – Orchard Knob Elementary School