The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the newly revised version of a federal law first created in 1965: the Elementary & Secondary Education Act. This landmark law had the goal of better serving historically disadvantaged groups of students through funding dollars to States. It has been rewritten several times since oct231965. The 2002 version was called No Child Left Behind (NCLB). ESSA became law in 2015 and will be fully implemented in the 2017-2018 school year.

To understand the importance of ESSA, it is helpful to know how the federal government’s approach to school accountability has changed over the years. The key concepts to keep in mind are flexibility in how states and school districts help historically disadvantaged groups of students and how they are held accountable for doing so. Flexibility is also thought of as local control. ESSA now balances both flexibility and accountability when historically one had more weight over the other.

Understanding the origins of racial disparities in education, and ESEA coming from the 1964 Civil Rights Act, ESSA is grounded in civil rights and therefore education provisions must address such disparities. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance. Examples of discrimination covered by Title VI include racial harassment, school segregation, and denial of language services to English learners.


Student outcomes will still comprise a majority of the accountability system, but with more meaningful indicators that include:

  • Proficiency in state learning standards still counts, like NCLB.
  • Student growth or another academic indicator must be included for elementary students.
  • Graduation rates are included for high schools.
  • English language proficiency would also be incorporated for English learners.
  • At least one more indicator is also required. States get to choose how to define this. It could include things like chronic absenteeism, access to advanced course work, suspension and expulsion data, and freshman-on-track rates.

All states are required to submit a new state plan to the U.S. Department of Education for the 2017-2018 school year. The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) is in communication with districts, stakeholders, and the general public throughout the process of developing Minnesota’s new plan. The first deadline is March 2017, for which Minnesota is aiming. In January 2017, MDE will release a draft for a public comment period. We invite you to review it and comment.

The U.S. Department of Education recently issued final regulations on the accountability, public reporting, and state plan provisions in ESSA.

These regulations clarify and reinforce some of the key equity levers in the law, including:

  • The requirement that all indicators that go into a school rating be measured for each group of students a school serves;
  • The requirement that states assign summative ratings (called determinations) to schools, and that schools that are consistently underperforming for one or more groups of students receive a lower rating; and
  • The requirement that improvement plans for schools that are low-performing for all students or for any one group of students identify and address resource inequities both between schools within a district, and within the school itself. Districts (LEAs) and schools have to, at minimum, consider inequities in rates at which students are taught by ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers; per pupil expenditures; access to advanced coursework; preschool programs and full-day kindergarten programs; and specialized instructional support personnel.

But they leave open many questions that are critical for equity, including:

  • What goals/expectations will the state set for schools? The regulations simply reiterate ESSA requirements that goals for raising achievement and graduation rates require more progress for groups that are further behind and include the same timeline for reaching those goals.
  • How will the state define “consistently underperforming” for a group of students?The regulations say that states can either define “consistent underperformance” as missing interim progress targets for two years (with some flexibility around that timeframe), or propose a different, state-chosen definition.
  • How much will performance of individual groups of students count in school ratings? The regulations say only that a school that is consistently underperforming for a group of students should get a lower rating than it otherwise would have gotten.
  • What n-size will the state use when measuring school performance? The regulations require an n-size of 30, unless the state can provide justification for using a higher number.

Initiative Action in 2016

Historic MN EL – Equity ESSA Plan Initiative 2016-2017

Building on the strengths of two strong education equity advocacy organizations in Minnesota–Coalition for Asian American Leaders (CAAL) and MnEEP– founded the Minnesota Multilingual Equity Network which has launched the MN EL – Equity ESSA Plan Initiative.  This Initiative aims to coordinate major conversations with representatives of multilingual organizations and with multiethnic families and students most impacted by English Language Learner school policies and practices in the state.  We have direct educator and community/family representation from the Latino, Hmong, Laos, Somali communities of Minnesota. Through this culturally responsive community engagement, an ELL-ESSA stakeholder advisory group will be formed to represent a vital equity agenda for ESSA EL-specific state plan recommendations.

On the advocacy end, the project leaders and key stakeholder members will do the following:

  • Meet directly (bi-monthly and or weekly) with MDE staff in charge of working on EL and other aspects of the ESSA plan to advocate for inclusion of the project’s recommendations.
  • Actively participate at essential meetings organized by MDE, particularly their Advisory Committee which meets twice per month.
  • Organize and facilitate broader community convenings to create opportunities for student, parent, community perspectives and advice to inform and shape the recommendations for MN’s ESSA implementation plan.
  • Partner with other coalitions who share similar goals to harness our collective voice to ensure MDE’s final plan truly respects education equity by incorporating measures that result in academic success for students of color.
  • Create PSAs for ethnic and mainstream media to inform and mobilize communities to support the Initiative’s recommendations.

For more information on gatherings, meetings please contact Aara Johnson, Policy Associate at

CAAL with MnEEP senior staff will serve as  advisors who will coordinate community meetings, the stakeholder group and create a policy brief agenda to formally present as the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) creates its official state plan to submit to the U.S. Department of Education. These advisors will also write and finalize the policy brief which will be distributed before the end of the Initiative.

This Initiative receives sub-grant funds from the Migration Policy Institute–funded by the McKnight Foundation and Joyce Foundation for EL network and ESSA coalition work. The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) will provide technical expertise in the areas of: baseline data/research, policy implications, national promising practices, connection to additional resources, and more.  MPI has created the “National Partnership to Improve PreK Success for Immigrant Children and Youth”—

ESSA-EL Stakeholder Meetings

  • We gathered together a mix of Somali, Karen, Hmong, Latino and white communities including PreK-12 educators, professors, advocates, parents, and administrators.
  • We met to understand ESSA and provisions for English Language Proficiency (ELP) indicator with a presentation from the Migration Policy Institute.
  • We then met several times to discuss best ways to measure ELP by presenting experience in the schools, as parents, and from EL education research
  • After MnEEP and CAAL wrote the policy brief, we engaged stakeholders on how they reacted to what some EL education research says about best measuring the ELP indicator and what supports are necessary to promote multilingualism

Community Meetings

  • Co-hosted a St. Paul Public Schools Parent Advisory Committee meeting which brought in families from Somali, Hmong, Karen, and Latino communities. We presented the current state of EL education, state education acts, and ESSA. Families then discussed what education equity means for their children and how they want to see EL education improve.

Participation in Coalitions and Conferences

  • With Joyce Foundation grantees, education advocates from Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana met in Chicago to learn more about ESSA and how to best measure the new indicators. We also compared and contrasted our state processes and plans.
  • Alongside civil rights advocates, we attended two ESSA Boot Camps to learn more about ESSA and how to advocate for equitable measurements and inclusions in the state plan.
  • With those who attended the Joyce Foundation conferences and ESSA Boot Camps, Minnesota developed an ESSA advocacy coalition to organize voices locally. Sharing information gathered at Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) ESSA committees and writing a letter and meeting with the Education Commissioner, the coalition weaves education and civil rights advocacy to ensure all Minnesota students are well supported and educated.

Interaction with the Minnesota Department of Education

  • We have a weekly phone call with MDE representatives to learn about updates and equally advise on policy specifics.
  • We attend ESSA committee meetings to include the advocacy voice: Technical Accountability, Advisory Accountability, Assessment, and EL.
  • We participated in the ESSA Focus Group for ELs to discuss broader education topics such as accountability, family engagement, and well-rounded education.
  • With EL stakeholders, we met with the Education Commissioner to present initial policy recommendations for the ELP indicator.
  • We invite our MDE representatives to our community meetings to continue relationship building.