Making the Most of ESSA: Twenty Questions for Developing and Implementing Strong State ESSA Plans That Advance College and Career Readiness and Equity

Published July 2017
by Cathy Holahan, Kathryn Young, Scott Palmer and Bethany Little

As states develop their plans to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), there are several big ideas emerging that states (and districts) should consider to maximize ESSA’s value and impact. A core goal of our education systems must be to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills necessary for success in college, career, and life. Research shows that this includes an array of deeper learning knowledge and skills, including rigorous academic content knowledge, the ability to think critically and solve problems, the ability to work collaboratively and communicate effectively, and the ability to direct one’s learning with a strong academic mindset. Achieving these outcomes for all students – and closing gaps in opportunity and achievement – will require significant changes in teaching, learning, and supports. States have a key role to play in setting the vision, systems, and conditions that can help achieve this goal – particularly for historically underserved students – and promote continuous improvement over time. This guide is intended to support states, districts, and stakeholders in driving these important shifts as they plan for and implement ESSA and broader education strategies. It provides explanations of ESSA leverage points and examples of states already laying this groundwork. The guide also includes a quick checklist tool for states to reflect on their plans and actions.