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Data and Transparency Key to ESSA

By: MaryBeth Crissman Date: May 17, 2016

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) may now be a thing of the past as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) comes into effect in late 2017.  While NCLB focused on federal and state mandates, rigorous and prescriptive student testing, and difficult to achieve school and district minimum requirements for teachers and students, ESSA shifts the focus to greater school autonomy to determine needs, scales back proficiency requirements, and increases comprehendible reporting. The changes are considerable, and there are still many questions circulating about how the new policy outlined in ESSA will change education.

Feelings of Uncertainty

Periods of change are always a time of uncertainty and hesitation. Moving from an education policy that has reigned for over 15 years to a new approach is bound to bring forth a plethora of reactions from those invested most in our educational system. Some administrators and teachers are excited about the opportunity for more autonomy and the ability to cater their programming to their specific student demographic. Others feel that ESSA is just another bureaucratic measure that will make no difference in how their schools run and perform. A recent survey revealed that only 53% of superintendents and 29% of principals feel that ESSA will have a positive or very positive impact on their districts. In fact, 62% of principals and 43% of superintendents feel that ESSA will have no impact whatsoever on their districts. In fact, of those principals and superintendents surveyed, over 59% of the principals and 45% of the superintendents lack familiarity with the new law. But, despite the mixed feelings and uncertainty about the changes ESSA brings, two things are for sure. First, ESSA mandates greater transparency and understandable reporting. Second, teacher evaluations and appraisals will likely be localized to the school and district to provide greater meaning for both administrators, teachers, and students. Let’s dive into those key changes to provide some clarity.

Transparency is Key

Transparency is the greatest change that comes with the implementation of ESSA. Districts and schools will be required to share a variety of test results and other factors that reveal student achievement for vulnerable groups, teacher performance, and school safety. Most significantly, schools will now share data on the progress of traditionally transient cohorts including foster children, homeless students, and students from military families.

“If achievement gaps persist, ESSA ensures that federal policymakers will have the data and information to demand increased protections to better serve disadvantaged students.”

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Virginia

Not only will schools reveal data on student performance, but they will also be required to share information on school spending on a school-by-school basis. Districts will need to compose clear and understandable reports that clearly identify how much money is spent in each individual school as well as where their funding is coming from. The data districts collect and share needs to be presented in a form that allows researchers and advocates to “crosstabulate” the data to investigate opportunities for student improvement. An essential part of ESSA’s transparency mandate makes data accessible and understandable for all members of the community, parents included.

Making Evaluation Meaningful

Another major change that ESSA brings is a de-emphasis on utilizing student test scores in teacher evaluations. This means that the “highly qualified teacher” requirements of NCLB have been repealed, and there are no longer federal- and state-mandated evaluation requirements. States now have the flexibility to determine individual district and school needs and adjust teacher evaluation to reflect those needs and growth opportunities. While some states have written teacher-evaluation policies into law, many states are already beginning to reevaluate those laws.

The loosening of regulations regarding teacher evaluation means that schools and districts can employ more meaningful methods of assessing teacher effectiveness rather than simply assigning a value based on test scores. The freedom to utilize non-traditional modes of evaluation – reflection, PLCs, professional growth plans – coupled with more traditional, data-backed methods offer teachers the opportunity to grow professionally in a meaningful way while still satisfying administrative accountability requirements.


While both exciting and a little chaotic, the new ESSA mandates take effect at the start of the 2017 school year, and districts have until that time to put solutions into place that will allow them to track, record, and share their report cards. Effective technology solutions like Truenorthlogic’s educator professional growth solutions linked with Performance Matter’s student growth solutions can help your district rise to the challenge.


Want to read more about ESSA and the changes it brings? Check out these sources:

ESSA Loosens Reins on Teacher Evaluations, Qualifications

ESSA Paves Way for Deeper Access to Wealth of K-12 Data

Survey: Principals, Superintendents Still Familiarizing Themselves With ESSA