The Every Student Succeed Act (ESSA) is finally ready to be implemented in schools across the country, after the past couple of years spent reaching out to educators and creating detailed plans on how to handle effective hiring of teachers, school ratings, education quality, and accountability. 17 states and the District of Columbia are expected to submit their ESSA state plans to the Department of Education between January and April – many of them have already started filing their plans. However, there’s one hitch: On his first day in office, President Trump decided to push back on ESSA.

What Could the ESSA Delay Mean for States?
According to Education Week, some state education leaders aren’t planning on waiting on Trump and the new education secretary to set the new agenda. Advocates in Washington say that the delay was expected, and they are telling state chiefs to continue with their plans for implementation. It will be difficult for the president to repeal or get rid of ESSA, as it began and will continue to remain a state-led effort. In today’s post, we’re taking a look at the challenges and goals for implementation.

The Challenge of Creating Education Goals
This is a pivotal moment in education, allowing many states to start fresh and plan for the next generation of students. It’s a struggle with striking the right balance when laying out the framework for the next 10 years. If they set their goals too high, the fear is that it will lead to cases of cheating at low-performing schools. If they aim too low, it could create opportunity for problems to fester at average-performing schools, such as long-standing achievement gaps. There’s a legitimate concern that goal setting will take educators’ attention away from students of color, students from low-income households, and students with special education needs.

A Brief Look at ESSA Plans by State
State officials are well aware of these sensitivities in creating their goals. As many are still presenting to their state boards and finalizing their plans, goal setting has ignited the conversation that has been years in the making. And it’s coming at a time when more schools and districts are collecting real data around student learning and achievement that can lead to smarter decisions. Overall, there are a couple of major themes – states trying to bring more attention to their historically overlooked students and developing multiple yardsticks to measure “student success,” outside of test scores.

Take a look at what a few states have included in their early draft plans:

  • Arizona: They ranked 44th in Education Week’s 2017 national scorecard, with an F in school funding. Arizona has a few challenges of their own – the current teacher shortage, for one, to ensure the effective transition of ESSA. They were the first state to submit a final version of their ESSA plan to the Dept. of Education in January – they were also the first state to submit a draft for public comment back in September. Arizona set a goal of achieving a 90-percent graduation rate by 2030; currently, they maintain a 77-percent graduate rate.
  • Maryland: They’re proposing that their schools cut big achievement gaps between white students and students of color by half in the next six years. Maryland also aims to reduce the number of non-proficient students by half by 2030. They are still collecting public feedback this month, and among chief concerns is the issue of better professional training for teachers, especially in providing them with better knowledge for teaching diverse students.
  • Michigan: While some states set their timeline around 2030, Michigan has outlined an ambitious goal to place in the top 10 in the next 10 years. Currently, their state ranks at the bottom half in the nation. Michigan’s early reading levels have been falling for years, ranking at 41st compared to other states.
  • Tennessee: Nashville has the largest group of English language learners in their state, around 15 percent of 86,000 students. In their plan, Tennessee has put the spotlight on helping English language learners and other at-risk students for the first time in years. However, there is concern from education equity advocates that their draft plan is insufficient for reaching students of color. Tennessee set forth a timeline that places importance on test scores – specifically, to rank in the top half of states on the NAEP achievement index and raise their average ACT score from 19 to 21 by 2020.