Education Policy

States: Improvements Needed to Guide ESSA Plans

School leadership in Delaware, Nebraska and South Carolina are already seeing some of the benefits of the Every Student Succeeds Act, but there are still challenges that many schools face.

When it comes to the Every Student Succeeds Act, school leadership from Delaware, Nebraska and South Carolina agreed that the 2015 law was demonstrably better than the No Child Left Behind Act. However, the leaders agreed that there is room for improvement.

"Our design to include science and social studies proficiency in the achievement and progress sections of our accountability system failed, even though Secretary DeVos has strongly encouraged states to 'think out of the box,'" said Susan Bunting, Delaware's Secretary of Education, at a Sept. 25 Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing.  "Consequently, we were forced instead to regulate these two subjects to the school quality section of our accountability system."

The majority of the hearing focused on the need to help schools that support disadvantaged students. Senator Patty Murray, the committee's ranking member, emphasized how ESSA plans approved by the Department of Education are not necessarily following the law's requirements.

"Secretary DeVos has also approved plans that fail to properly identify schools that need help or support getting back on track," Murray said in her opening remarks.  "Without properly counting the success of groups of students who have historically struggled in a school's overall performance, a school may look like it is succeeding — even if all the African American students, or all of the students with disabilities, for example — are falling behind."

In Nebraska, Matthew Blomstedt, commissioner of education, said his state is moving forward with a "common vision" for education.  After ESSA passed, the Department of Education worked with various stakeholders to integrate federal requirements with the state's accountability system called Accountability for a Quality Education System, Today and Tomorrow (AQuESTT).

"Under ESSA, our state is able to align federal support for underperforming schools with state systems for accreditation and accountability," Blomstedt said.

In South Carolina, helping students graduate is a focus of education stakeholders. The Profile of the South Carolina Student is a document that outlines the skills life and career characteristics that every student should possess.

As part of the South Carolina ESSA plan, schools that are underperforming will be identified as Targeted Support and Improvement Schools and Additional Targeted Support and Intervention (ATSI).  Those schools with ATSI ratings will get "transformation coaches" to help educators and school leaders with strategic guidance to turn around their school performance rates.

When it comes to the equity issue, the Nebraska Department of Education is making an effort to erase disparities with the creation of equity standards.

"We want to get the best teachers and support leaders to show what quality instruction looks like for all students," Blomstedt said.

The South Carolina ATSI plan allows the state's Department of Education to directly take over school districts. Currently, there are three school districts in South Carolina under the department's control.

"We have school board where we have taken over authority.  It is a system.  If one portion is broken then we won't succeed," said Molly Spearman, superintendent of the South Carolina Department of Education.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe covering education policy and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.

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