The Every Student Succeeds Act: How ESSA Advances on Learner-Centered Education

The following post was written by Lexi Barrett, America Forward’s Policy Director.

Yesterday, the President signed a historic piece of legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The ESSA includes a number of America Forward K-12 education priorities to help ensure all students have access to a high-quality education that will prepare them to succeed. In addition to the inclusion of language championed by the America Forward Coalition related to Pay for Success and postsecondary enrollment, we are pleased about the new Law’s focus on innovation in education, including the flexibility it provides to states to enable them to move towards a more innovative and learner-centered approach to educating students.

How does ESSA advance innovation in the education space?

The Every Student Succeeds Act will open up space for innovation that No Child Left Behind had closed: space for new systems to be created, space for innovative partners to step in, space to design new solutions for tough challenges, and space to reimagine what learning can look like in our nation’s classrooms. This is embodied by ESSA’s focus on personalized learning, support for innovative educational programs, and new innovative assessment pilot program, which America Forward has worked closely with Congress to shape.

Why is this important?

An increasing number of states and school districts are eager to move beyond traditional education models based on seat time, and towards reimagined, competency-based models that focus on mastery of knowledge, competencies, and skills. These new education systems have the potential to transform how schools personalize learning and move towards a more learner-centered approach. Part of what holds schools back from pursuing these exciting emerging innovations is a traditional system of standardized assessments that expects all students to learn in lock-step with each other and fails to give teachers the freedom to meet students where they are and design learning around their needs. States are looking for flexibility to design more flexible assessments that help educators adapt their teaching in real-time based on learner needs and allow students to demonstrate mastery of subject matter and skills when they are ready.

Over the past year, America Forward has worked closely with the Reimagine Learning network and key partner organizations including KnowledgeWorks, iNACOL, and the Council of Chief State School Officers to advance competency-based education models through an innovative assessment pilot program in the new law. We are excited to see this pilot program included in the Every Student Succeeds Act. This federal pilot program will enable states to test and evaluate innovative assessment strategies that align to new approaches for teaching and learning. Without this flexibility, states would remain confined to the traditional system that was not designed to support new and emerging approaches to education. America Forward thanks all the advocates and partners who have worked closely together to advance this innovation that has the potential to transform classrooms and improve educational opportunities across the country.

Looking Ahead:

America Forward looks forward to working with the Administration on the implementation of this provision and the broad ESSA. Continue following America Forward on Twitter and at for additional legislative and coalition member updates.

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