School districts around the country likely are sighing with relief as the 2017–18 school year gathers steam and the challenges of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), 2001 have been mitigated by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA, 2015). ESSA’s new accountability system is effective this school year, and states now have 18 months to align their own accountability systems to the new requirements and begin identifying schools in need of intervention.
NCLB mandates did little to improve outcomes for students in many districts, including students with disabilities, and the federal government’s one-size-fits-all approach to accountability pressured all states to adopt standardized practices for achievement standards, instruction, assessment, and teacher evaluation. ESSA reduces the federal government’s role in these policies, and gives states more authority to design their own accountability standards.
Under ESSA, educators are part of a diverse group of stakeholders who have input into their state’s plan for meeting the educational needs of all students. This is particularly good news for special education professionals, who now have input into decisions about educational plans for students with special needs.
ESSA continues to require that all students have access to challenging state academic standards. States are still allowed to develop alternate academic achievement standards for students with significant cognitive disabilities, but they must promote access to the general education curriculum.
If your school district subscribes to n2y’s Unique Learning System for your special education program, you have all the assistance you need in meeting these requirements. An award-winning, online, standards-based special education curriculum, Unique Learning System is tailored to individual needs so that students with special needs can have meaningful access to the general education curriculum, and make meaningful educational progress.
ESSA also retains the requirement for annual assessment and accountability for all students. Local education agencies can decide what percentage of their students should take regular assessment tests, and which students should complete an alternate assessment. Administrators and special education teachers should continue to consider individual student needs when determining whether an alternate assessment is appropriate.
Unique Learning System’s GPS (Goals, Preferences, Skills) can help you determine which assessment is appropriate for your students. Among its features, GPS helps you navigate various state and national standards, and, with its data and tracking tools, helps you track individual students’ identified goals and growth to effectively determine the student’s current level of performance.
The remaining mandates under ESSA cover the use of evidence-based practices, reporting requirements and discipline. The new legislation continues the NCLB mandate for the use of evidence-based practices, which still are essential for educating students with severe disabilities. It also requires every state to annually publish state and school district report cards, and includes specific guidelines on how graduation rates for students with significant cognitive disabilities will be calculated, as well as how educator qualifications will be reported.
ESSA also mandates state and local education agencies to outline how they will support schools in improving conditions for student learning through reducing harassment and bullying, overuse of student removal from the classroom as a disciplinary measure, and behavioral interventions that compromise student health and safety.
To gain more insight into the mandates of ESSA, and how to implement them, download your copy of ESSA: Why Does it Matter?.
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