Surge in Innovation with ESSA

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One of the main criticisms of the No Child Left Behind Act was that it put too much focus on preparing students to take assessments, limiting schools’ ability to innovate and try new ways of teaching content. Teachers stuck with what they knew, fearing the risk of failure and the associated sanctions. However, this outdated act was replaced in 2015 with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which has opened the doors to innovation.

ESSA Changes

ESSA gives much of the power back to the states and school districts. Although students continue to participate standardized testing, each state is now responsible for putting together plans on how to help students succeed, how to evaluate schools, and how to respond to schools that do poorly. As a result, teachers no longer have to fear the federal government stepping in to fire staff and close schools if their students struggle on these assessments.

Increase in Innovation

In the short amount of time that ESSA has been in effect, innovation in education has become a huge part of the conversation in schools. States have begun submitting their education plans, and many of them include a focus on personalized learning. New Jersey, for example, plans to provide professional development related to personalized learning and offer grants to schools that want to provide personalized instruction. Virginia also emphasizes innovation in their plans, as they allow schools to apply for waivers from requirements that would limit their ability to innovate.

Sharing Success Stories

As research continues to emerge about how powerful personalized learning can be for students, ESSA finally allows schools to pursue these new possibilities without as much fear. New Hampshire has asked teachers to document their unique intervention strategies and how they work, recognizing that their teachers are experts in teaching and often have revolutionary ideas on how to make learning more effective. This will allow teachers to pursue new technology and personalized learning solutions, while also sharing their findings with others.

For detailed strategies on how schools can innovate with ESSA and prepare for accountability requirements, we recommend this comprehensive handbook, published by the Center for Digital Education.

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