What is the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)?

By Andrew M.I. Lee, JD

At a glance

  • The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the main education law for public schools in the United States.

  • The law holds schools accountable for how students learn and achieve.

  • ESSA aims to provide an equal opportunity for disadvantaged students, including those who get special education.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the main law for K–12 public education in the United States. It replaced No Child Left Behind. ESSA is a large, complex law. It affects all students in public schools.

The main purpose of ESSA is to make sure public schools provide a quality education for all kids. It gives states a central role in how schools account for student achievement. This includes the achievement of historically disadvantaged students who fall into one or more of four key groups:

  • Students in poverty
  • Students of color
  • Students who receive special education services
  • Those with limited English language skills

Under ESSA, each state creates an education plan for its schools within a framework provided by the federal government. The law gives parents and caregivers a chance to weigh in on these plans. Each state plan must describe:

  • Academic standards
  • Annual testing
  • School accountability
  • Goals for academic achievement
  • Plans for supporting and improving struggling schools
  • State and local report cards

These aren’t the only requirements for states and school districts. But they’re the ones that most directly impact kids who learn and think differently. 

ESSA also provides funding for literacy programs and other grants. And it encourages innovation in how schools teach kids.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Andrew M.I. Lee, JD is an editor and attorney who strives to help people understand complex legal, education, and parenting issues.