Final ESSA Accountability Rules Boost State Flexibility in Key Areas

The Obama administration’s final accountability rules for the Every Student Succeeds Act give states greater flexibility on school ratings, schools with high testing opt-out rates, and in other areas than an earlier draft version, released in May.

But, with President-elect Donald Trump set to take office in January, the regulations face an uncertain future.

The U.S. Department of Education sought to address some of the chief complaints about its draft regulations, which state officials and some lawmakers said went overboard on federal authority and expected states to make key decisions on compressed timelines and hold schools accountable for their performance before new ESSA systems take effect.

To address those concerns, states will now have until the 2018-19 school year to pinpoint their lowest-performing 5 percent of schools—those identified for so-called “comprehensive improvement” under the law—as opposed to the 2017-18 school year under the draft regulations.

The department had also originally told states to get their plans in by March 2017 or by the summer. That’s been moved to April 3 or Sept. 18. That gives states a longer window to craft their plans and the incoming Trump administration greater opportunity to get key players in place to review them.

“The final rules give states more time and flexibility to provide every student with a high-quality, well-rounded education while ensuring that states and districts keep the focus on improving outcomes and maintaining civil rights protections for all children, particularly those who need our support the most,” U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr., said in a statement.

He said the department incorporated feedback from those in the education community—who sent in more than 20,000 comments on the draft regulations—to improve the final rules.

But it’s unclear what happens to the regulations from here. The incoming Trump administration, which is expected to favor a more hands-off approach to accountability than the Obama administration, could decide to hit the pause button on these regulations, delaying their implementation for years. Or Trump and his team could issue guidance telling states that they won’t enforce parts of the regulations, or even go through the process of re-regulating, which could delay states’ planning.

The Council of Chief State School Officers seems pretty happy with the final regulations, which could bode well for their staying power. “It is clear the U.S. Department of Education listened to the feedback from state education chiefs across the country and made several important changes to ensure the accountability provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act can be implemented in all states,” said Chris Minnich, CCSSO’s executive director in a statement. “We look forward to working with the new administration to offer states the guidance, flexibility and stability they need to create plans under this new law that will best meet the needs of each child.”

So, what’s in these final regulations? And how are they different from ESSA, and from what the department put out before?

For more information, including a comparison of the initial regs with the final regs, see