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ESSA Accountability Rules: Impact on Your School Strategies

As expected, the Trump administration this week rolled back several state accountability requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

On Monday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released a new application for states to use in developing accountability plans under the new law, as first reported by Education Week.

The new, shorter template places more decision-making power in the hands of state boards of education, as opposed to the federal government, when it comes to how school progress is measured and assessed.

As DeVos told the Council of the Great City Schools in a speech on Monday, the administration hopes the rollback will usher in a more streamlined, flexible decision-making process for schools:

“Too often the Department of Education has gone outside its established authority and created roadblocks, wittingly or unwittingly for parents and educators alike. This isn’t right, nor is it acceptable. Under this administration, we will break this habit.”

But what does the rollback mean in practical terms for schools?

Realistically, school districts probably won’t see much of a change in how their schools or their state boards of education assess progress, experts say.

With an April 3 deadline looming for states to submit accountability plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act, most states have either already completed, or are in the process of finalizing their respective plans.

The new application doesn’t negate that work, as Carissa Moffat Miller, deputy executive officer of the Chief State School Officers, tells Education Week. “They’ve done all that stakeholder consultation, and quite frankly, that’s made these plans better…Their plans are not wrong. What I think you will see is states going above and beyond the new template.”

The big difference between the Trump administration’s approach to accountability and that of its predecessor comes down to explicit requirements.

Case in point: While the Obama administration required states to demonstrate that they engaged with a diverse group of stakeholders—be it school leaders, civil rights groups, parents, et cetera—the new rules merely leave that decision up to the states, Education Week reports.

Each state is different. Which means how states interpret and react to these rules changes will vary. Critical elements such as school climate, parent engagement, and college and career readiness remain priorities for many state education leaders.

While the new ESSA rules might not immediately affect state accountability plans, the pivot away from federal accountability is something education policy watchers will likely see more of under the new administration.

What do you think about the new ESSA rules? Will the changes affect your work? Tell us in the comments.

Want more on why school climate will become a priority under ESSA? Read Why school climate is vital to school quality.