The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – the latest version of the Elementary & Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – turns FIVE YEARS OLD today, December 10, 2020.

The Act states clearly “The purpose of this title is to provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps.”  

So, five years in, let’s look at how students with disabilities are faring and if the achievement gaps are closing:

GRADUATION: The latest data on high school graduation rates showed no improvement for students with disabilities from the previous year. The 4-year adjusted cohort graduation rate gap between students with disabilities and all students remains at 18 points (67% vs. 85% respectively).

ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT: As measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the achievement of students with disabilities in reading and math at grades 4 and 8 has either remained flat or worsened. Meanwhile, the variance in NAEP achievement across states is astonishing.

PARTICIPATION IN STATE ASSESSMENTS: ESSA brought a new requirement regarding assessment participation – limiting the use of alternate assessments based on alternate academic achievement standards to 1% of all students assessed. Yet many states have requested a waiver to exceed this limit for multiple years. And the U.S. Dept. of Education has abandoned its responsibilities to require states to adhere to Federal regulations and most recently asked states exceeding the limit to submit improvement plans in lieu of formal waiver requests.

Meanwhile, several states fail to meet the ESSA requirement to include at least 95% of students with disabilities in their state academic assessments. Missing the test participation mark is the reason some states received a failing grade in IDEA implementation in 2020.

Significant lack of progress in these important indicators are even more critical when we consider the increase in the number of students identified for special education in recent years. The latest year with data available showed an increase of 185,000 students ages 6-21 (2017-18 to 2018-2019). So many more students are affected by the lack of impact of ESSA.