Wow! Ed: Newsletter from the Center for Educational Improvment
ESSA: Opportunities for Balance & Innovation
April 2016
In This Issue

Christine Mason joins Helen Soule, Aaron Brengard, Beth Lee, Jill Flanders, Greg Egnor, and Jacqueline Luzak
for presentations on
21st Century Learning, July 6 and 7 at the

Full STEAM AHEAD- CEI presents on


Dr. Mason is presenting at the
VAESP Conference

"Using a 21st Century Learning Rubric to Promote Literacy and Social Emotional Learning"

April 24 in Williamsburg, VA

CEI Presents on Sunday, April 24 at a round table session

Heart Beaming: Certification, Request for Regional Leaders (Scroll down page)
Dear Educators,

In this issue of Wow! we share information on ESSA and social emotional learning; ESSA and STEM, and ESSA and state level implementation. 
We are encouraged by the opportunities for more balance, more 21st Century practices, and more local implementation with ESSA. However, we urge you to be informed and to speak out, to make sure your voice is heard as your states plan for the next few years. 
Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) - Addressing Our Children's Social Emotional Learning Needs
By: Sheri Brick, CEI Intern  and Fairfax County Public School (VA) teacher
It is the beginning of the school year. You are presented with a list of academic standards that need to be taught for quarter one. "We have to teach all of this by the end of the first quarter?" You say to yourself. "Okay then. Teach as many academic lessons as you can starting on the first day of school - ready, set, go!" 

It is the middle of the school year. You prepared what you believe are creative, engaging, and well planned lessons. During the lessons students are having emotional outbursts, fighting with each other, and letting their impulsivity and stress get the best of them. "Where did I go wrong?" you say.

It is the end of the school year. You are counting down the days. "I'm ready to start fresh," you say.

Go Slow to Go Fast

My former principal used to always tell me to, "go slow to go fast." She believed that taking the time to foster the Social Emotional learning (SEL) of students would help prepare them for academic learning and achievement in school. But the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, despite its positive intentions, ignored that idea and so did I. I'm ready to start fresh and so are our nation's schools. 

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a bipartisan measure that was signed into law by President Obama in December 2015. The act is viewed as a revision to and revamping of NCLB which was enacted in 2002. The focus on annual testing and improving low-income schools will remain, but states will have greater flexibility to choose standards and accountability measures that will support the learning of the children they serve. Lawmakers must have heard my former principal loud and clear because states are now required to incorporate non-academic measures, highlighting programs that promote social emotional learning skills. 

SEL Participation Leads to Academic Growth

This is a victory for schools that feel the pressure to teach rigorous academic standards before the children are emotional and socially ready. "School is more than just the Common Core, and it's definitely more than high stakes testing. To truly prepare students to be college and career ready we need to continue to teach them the social-emotional skills they will need for college, career, and their personal lives" (Dewitt, 2014). The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) lists these skills as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship management, and responsible decision making. A meta-analysis by Child Development in 2011 found that SEL participants made an 11 percentile point gain in achievement. 
21st Century Schools. Within the wording of the ESSA law is the Title VI provision - 21st Century Schools. 21st Century Schools foster a healthy, safe, and supportive learning environment in school and at home. Part A, Section 4108, cited as "Activities to Support Safe and Healthy Students," recommends that local educational agencies who receive funds will use them to "develop implement, and evaluate comprehensive programs and activities" such as:
  • School-based mental health mentoring and counseling, 
  • bullying and harassment prevention, 
  • instructional practices for developing relationship- building to improve safety, 
  • Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, and
  • establishing learning environments that are essential for school readiness.
The law supports high quality, school-wide professional development programs that focus on data-driven teaching, evidence-based instructional practices.
Social emotional learning is a critical piece of education reform and there is a lot of work to be done. Addressing the need of SEL in ESSA is a critical step in ensuring that states and districts develop SEL standards beginning with pre-school children on their first day in the classroom. This should include school-wide training and supports in order that educators have an understanding of students' developmental needs, teaching methods (see CASEL's "Teaching the Whole Child" Research-to-Practice Brief for 10 SEL teaching practices), interventions, and reliable and valuable assessment tools (see TransformEd's websites to learn more about assessment measures).

Under NCLB we worked backwards - teaching rigorous academics first and then addressing the social-emotional issues that resulted from such a difficult learning process. ESSA helps to reverse the course of learning. Build in the time to start slow and commit to SEL before you get into rigorous academics. Evidence suggests that you will be pleasantly surprised by how much learning will be accomplished in the academic school year.


ESSA and State Implementation
By Christine Mason
Secretary of Education John King, at a January U.S. Conference of Mayors said, "We need to make sure that states are aggressive and leaning forward in trying to support the schools that are struggling the most. We can't allow the intervention requirements to become just a bureaucratic compliance strategy."
Alyson Klein (Ed week) reported that King "said he's heartened that ESSA requires states to look beyond test scores and incorporate other measures of student achievement. That means states can consider access to advanced coursework for low-income students, access to arts and music education, and chronic absenteeism when rating their schools."

Accountability for Academic and non-Academic Factors

With ESSA, states are required to include at least four indicators in their accountability system, including three academic indicators and one other indicator of student growth. The academic indicators are to include proficiency on state tests, English-language proficiency, and an academic factor such as growth on state tests, which can be broken out by subgroup.

Regarding the non-academic factors, ESSA provides examples for states to consider such as measures of student or educator engagement, student access to and completion of advanced coursework, postsecondary readiness, and school climate and safety. As Evie Blad reports, "Even those who are enthusiastic about the new law acknowledge that some possible "other indicators" are easier to measure accurately than others." Many experts are cautioning that existing measures may have flaws and that many may not be appropriate for high-stakes accountability. Experts also urge  states to be mindful of the time it takes schools to change learning environments and nurture student's social skills.

ESSA implementation at the State Level

At an April 4 meeting of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), Tony Evers, the current CCSSO President, and Superintendent of Education in Wisconsin, stated, 
Whether it is implementing a new support and evaluation system or creating a pilot for a new accountability system, teachers, parents, community members and others were integral in this work. As we go forward in the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, we cannot lose sight of this. We must begin today to reach out to our critical friends - and especially those friends who are critical of us - to contribute to the planning in each of our states. From parents and teachers to civil rights leaders, we must get people to the table and get their thoughts and ideas before we move forward. 

At that meeting, Evers described actions that several states are taking, including:
  • In Oregon, a call for applications to find people interested in participating in four workgroups to provide input into the state's implementation of ESSA.
  • In New Jersey, holding a large stakeholder meeting followed by 10 topical meetings during April and May.
  • In Pennsylvania, getting input from a broad group of stakeholders including state civil right leaders.
Evers also described some of the other work that is being done at the state level:
  • In Kentucky, exploring how career readiness indicators can be included in a comprehensive statewide system.
  • In Virginia, including indicators of career and technical education, dual enrollment, and Advanced Placement on state report cards.
  • In New Hampshire, using a waiver to pilot a new accountability system to reduce the amount of year-end testing and increasing use of competency-based tests.
  • In California, developing a dashboard that present to parents and the public a picture of how schools are performing on multiple measures-academic and non-academic.
ESSA, if it follows the paths of NCLB and its predecessors, will be around for many years to come. These first couple of years are critical for establishing the tone and guidelines for implementation. Do you know what is happening in your state?  Have you voiced your opinion?  While it is often hard for principals and other local educational leaders to find the time to focus on policy development, CEI urges you make the time so that your state's decisions will be made with your input and guidance.
By: Donald Kim, CEI Intern
The Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, was signed into law December 10th, 2015. The White House claims ESSA will make efforts to increase standards for students from pre-school to highschool. ESSA also simplifies the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process. and the Department of Education created a website called College Scorecard, which is a database of higher-education institutions. The website provides various statistics for each school such as costs, earnings after school, average admission scores, etc.

Much attention regarding ESSA is placed on the movement away from No Child Left Behind's one-size-fits-all approach. But ESSA is also heavily concerned with improving Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education. According to the White House's press release, ESSA:
  • Ensures states set high standards so that children graduate high school ready for college and career
  • "Expands flexibility for districts to offer all of their students a well-rounded education, narrow the course equity gap, especially in STEM subjects, and invest in learning technologies and open educational resources."
  • Provides ways to develop, refine, and replicate innovative and ambitious reforms to close the achievement gap in America's schools, similar to the Administration's existing i3 program.
  • Expands incentives to prepare, develop, and advance effective teachers and principals in America's schools.
  • Establishs new resources to test promising practices and replicate proven strategies that will drive opportunity and better outcomes for America's students.
Strengthening STEM through ESSA.  While the White House's press release doesn't explicitly discuss ESSA's full effects on STEM, the bill and funding statement mention ways in which ESSA strengthens STEM in America. Thanks to STEM Education Coalition, you don't have to read through the whole bill to know what ESSA does for STEM. The coalition highlights the major STEM related provisions in this article. In short, ESSA:
  • Retains Math and Science testing, but allows states to use funding to integrate engineering and technology into testing.
  • Offers states more freedom, and possibly grants to recruit and develop STEM educators.
  • Through the Title IV formula grant can provide state and district funding for educational enrichment activities, which includes "Programming and activities to improve instruction and student engagement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, including computer science." (Every Student Succeeds Act, 2015).
STEM Educators and STEM Courses. ESSA allows states to make policies that help schools retain quality STEM educators. One way states might do this is offer differential pay to STEM instructors. The Title IV formula grant is important, because it gives schools the opportunity to increase access to high-quality courses for students underrepresented in the STEM field. The funding can also support the participation of low-income students in non-profit competitions related to STEM.

Funding Technology Use in Schools

Paula Love in a District Administration opinion piece explains that, "The digital shift has been a slow and often painful transition for K12 schools, fraught with barriers. Districts identify funding as the number one obstacle to digital adoption, according to the Center for Digital Education. Outdated state policies are also cited as a hurdle." But the new block grant provides $1.65 billion to schools, where at least 20% of the funds go to safety and health, and at least 20% goes to well-roundedness. Love claims that "The remaining 60 percent can be used for the effective use of technology." While it is doubtful that all 60% will go to the use of technology, the availability of funds to improve schools' technological resources is crucial.

Empowering States and Districts

ESSA empowers states and districts. But States and districts now have a responsibility to appropriately apply the freedom and funding ESSA provides - they have much research and planning to do.


US Department of Education. (n.d.). College Scorecard.
Office of the Press Secretary. (2015, December 02). Fact sheet: congress acts to fix No Child Left Behind.

Love, P. (2016, March). Fueling education's digital shift.

Committee for Education Funding. (n.d.). P
rograms authorized in S.1177 the Every Student Succeeds Act, as approved by the conference committee. 

114th Congress of the United States of America. Every Student Succeeds Act. Nov. 30, 2015. S. 1177 Enrolled Bill.
The Dance of Implementation

You know the routine- shake it up, turn left, turn right, spin, glide slowly forward, balance on your tip toes, stretch, pivot, and JUMP.  Will you be leading or following? Dancing or waiting it out?


Christine Mason
Center for Educational Improvement