ESSA Highlights

President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) on December 10th. ESSA will put an end to the punitive sanctions under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), and includes several initiatives that AFSA advocated for and supports, such as an end to the School Improvement Grant (SIG) turnaround models and increased professional development opportunities for principals. Read the summary below to learn all about the new law.


  • Maintains NCLB’s current required testing regime in math, reading/language arts, and science
  • Ends federal measurement of adequate yearly progress (AYP), in which each of six statistical subgroups in a school (e.g., low income students, English learners, special needs, etc.) had to make adequate yearly progress towards proficiency
  • Ends federal government labeling as failing those schools that fail consistently each year to make AYP as well as the mandated federal turn-around models and other penalties that the feds imposed
  • Turns back to states the power to determine which schools are not progressing academically and to establish their own interventions for at least the bottom 5% of schools but USDE must approve state accountability plans
  • Ends NCLB’s highly qualified teacher requirement, which mandated qualified teachers with appropriate federal-determined credentialing standards in each school
  • Eliminates or consolidates into block grants many existing federal education programs. The latter allows districts to make more decisions on what to spend their federal education dollars.
  • Establishes a flexible block grant (Title IV) that allows districts to choose to use their dollars for technology, well-rounded programs (e.g. STEM, civics) or health/safety programs (counseling).
  • Terminates waivers granted by the Secretary to a state or consortium of LEAs on or after August 1, 2016.
  • Bars the Secretary of Education from mandating, directing or controlling anything to do with evaluation systems, effectiveness definitions and professional standards, certification or licensing related to teachers, principals or other school leaders.
  • Prohibits the Secretary of Education from: adding new requirements or new criteria to state accountability systems; requiring states to add or delete requirements as a condition of approving the state plan; prescribing long term goals or measurements of interim progress, specific academic assessments, indicators, indicator weights, differentiation methodology, specific school support and improvement strategies, exit criteria, aspects/parameters of evaluation systems, indicators of teacher, principal or other school leader effectiveness, etc.; issuing non-regulatory guidance for this section; and providing definitions.

Specific Principal Victories

  • Allows states to spend up to 3% of their Title II set asides on principal professional development.
  • Authorizes the Secretary to award competitive grants to improve recruitment, preparation, placement, support, and retention of effective principals and other school leaders in high-need schools.
  • Allows states and districts to base principal evaluations on multiple measures of effectiveness and only “in part on evidence of student achievement.”
  • Requires state plans to include information about how the state will work with districts to provide effective transitions of students to middle grades and high school to decrease the risk of students dropping out