The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – signed into law in December 2015 – was an important victory for students with disabilities and other groups of traditionally marginalized students. Not only does it require states to put a spotlight on how all students were being served, but it creates many new opportunities for schools to rethink and improve learning experiences for students, including those with learning and attention issues.

States spent the last year engaging with stakeholders to develop plans to explain how they will address key pieces of the law, including:

  • Academic standards
  • Annual testing
  • How schools will be held responsible for student achievement
  • Goals for improving academic achievement
  • Plans for supporting and improving struggling schools

At this time, all but four state ESSA plans (California, Utah, Oklahoma and Florida) have been approved by the U.S. Department of Education. Yet, NCLD’s review of the plans cast some doubt on how well states will address the needs of students with disabilities. Here’s what we found:

  • Most states do not set the same long-term goals for students with disabilities as their non-disabled peers.  Setting lower expectations for students with disabilities is unacceptable, and suggests that too many states do not believe these children can succeed at high levels.
  • Many states will not consider how students with disabilities are performing when determining school ratings.  This means that in those states, a school could get the highest rating, such as an “A” or “5 stars” because the average of all students appears to be doing well. But in that same school there could be large gaps in achievement for students with disabilities and other groups.
  • Almost half of states haven’t worked to align their ESSA and IDEA goals.  We have long recognized that students with disabilities are general education students first. As such, IDEA and ESSA should work in concert to provide the best education possible for students with disabilities. Failing to coordinate between ESSA and IDEA state goals is a missed opportunity to better serve students with disabilities.

While many states have missed an important opportunity hold high standards and rethink how they educate students with disabilities, it is not too late to make a change. In the coming months, NCLD will publish a report detailing how state plans have fallen short and where improvements can be made.  In the meantime, you can take action to help make sure students with disabilities are a priority for states as they take on ESSA implementation.

  1. Learn more about what ESSA requires. NCLD and worked together to develop an ESSA Advocacy Toolkit, which includes key information for how parents can get involved.  
  2. Get involved in your state’s ESSA planning. Contact your district office or school board to learn how to participate in district-level education planning under ESSA. Learn more about what to expect at a school board meeting so you can make a difference in your child’s education.
  3. Advocate for teacher training in your district that will help your child succeed. Ask your child’s teacher about the kinds of professional learning opportunities they receive to help support children with learning and attention issues. ESSA has funding to support teacher professional learning in areas like Universal Design for Learning, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, Personalized Learning and Strengths-Based IEPs.

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