Don’t wait, states: Start planning and designing for ESSA now

Topics: Education Policy, ESSA

4. There are policy barriers to scaling Early College models. Within the last couple of weeks, the United States Department of Education released the first set of ESSA regulations. These regulations, now open for public comment, cover accountability, school improvement and state plans.

Their release provides a good moment to underscore that we are at a national turning point in education. Over the next few months, the regulations will be available for comment periods before being released as final regulations. It is imperative that states don’t wait for the final regulations but begin to execute on a design process now. As has been stated, on multiple accounts in multiple ways, it is essential for states to seize the opportunities in ESSA to transform their statewide systems of education.

It is incumbent on states to actively plan now and engage local stakeholders in designing their education systems. States must be thoughtful in how they design education systems, aligning accountability, school improvement, assessment, educator workforce, and extended learning opportunity policies to create a cohesive system that prepares all students for success from cradle to career.

And it begins with asking the right questions of the right district level stakeholders. When it comes to accountability and assessment, for example, what should you ask yourself and your partners when designing under ESSA?

We believe that an aligned system, established in partnership with districts, communities, and leaders across sectors, should ensure that every student benefits from a personalized education where instruction and supports are aligned to individual interests and needs. Fortunately, ESSA provides a number of high-leverage opportunities to advance a vision for personalized learning throughout each major element of the education system.

We also believe that effective state level implementation must begin with the design process and with engaging district level stakeholders. Questions drive the design process allowing for the development of a vision as well as account for issues such as college and career readiness, equity, and continuous improvement. For example, in the areas of accountability and assessment, states should wrestle with the following questions as they design their systems of education in response to ESSA:


  • What long-term goals and measurements of interim progress will the state establish to ensure ambitious gains in school and student achievement? And how will the state transition to these new requirements?
  • Are there additional indicators the state wants to include in its accountability system to advance equity? There’s more to measure than just state assessments, graduation rates, and English language proficiency. How might the state incentivize closure of achievement gaps, resource equity, and access to high-quality teachers and learning experiences?
  • What measures and practices can the state incorporate into its accountability system to ensure the system has the capacity to meet the needs of all learners? Should the state include any of these measures in its accountability system?


  • Does the state provide flexibility for students to assess when they are ready and take an assessment multiple times, if needed, to demonstrate mastery? How will the state incorporate that information into its accountability and school improvement systems in real-time?
  • What changes does the state need to make to ensure the system of assessments aligns to the state’s system of support for all schools? How can the assessment system help stakeholders design timely and customized supports for each student?
  • What steps can the state take to ensure all districts have the technological infrastructure to ensure problem-free assessment delivery and reporting of results?

For recommendations and more design questions, please see our Recommendations for Advancing Personalized Learning Under the Every Student Succeeds Act. There is much work to be done. Our hope is that states take advantage of the foundational element in ESSA to build new, personalized learning systems to support all students towards college, career, and civic readiness.