Final ESSA Rules: What Do They Mean? Here’s how the new federal education law may affect school-based clinicians. Policy Analysis
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Policy Analysis  |   April 01, 2017
Final ESSA Rules: What Do They Mean?
Author Notes
  • Catherine D. Clarke is director of ASHA education and regulatory advocacy. cclarke@asha.org
    Catherine D. Clarke is director of ASHA education and regulatory advocacy. cclarke@asha.org×
Article Information
Regulatory, Legislative & Advocacy / Policy Analysis
Policy Analysis   |   April 01, 2017
Final ESSA Rules: What Do They Mean?
The ASHA Leader, April 2017, Vol. 22, 26-28. doi:10.1044/leader.PA.22042017.26
The ASHA Leader, April 2017, Vol. 22, 26-28. doi:10.1044/leader.PA.22042017.26
Rules to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—the federal public education law enacted last year to replace No Child Left Behind—took effect Jan. 30, and many of the changes could potentially affect school-based audiologists and speech-language pathologists.
ESSA’s most significant change puts states and local districts in charge of decisions about student testing and accountability for students’ academic progress. It also eliminates the previous construct of “adequate yearly progress” toward 100-percent proficiency in certain subjects.
It’s important to note that these final regulations may change under the new presidential administration and Congress. Resolutions of disapproval for ESSA accountability and teacher preparation rules have been filed in the House and the Senate under the Congressional Review Act.
The Congressional Review Act allows Congress to overturn regulations set out by the executive branch. If the regulations are overturned, the administration can’t issue new regulations until there’s new authorizing legislation—leaving states and local jurisdictions responsible for implementing ESSA without regulations to guide their efforts.
Meanwhile—in February—Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in a letter advised chief state school officers to continue finalizing their state ESSA plans, following the timeline for developing and submitting their plans for review and approval by the Department of Education.
Here’s a rundown of some of the changes that may affect audiologists and SLPs in schools.

ESSA’s most significant change puts states and local districts in charge of decisions about student testing and accountability for students’ academic progress.

Annual school performance
The change: States, in consultation with stakeholders, must develop a multi-indicator measure of school success that looks beyond student achievement measures. Schools could be recognized for significant progress in helping low-achieving students grow academically, improving the school climate, raising the percentage of English-learners who make progress toward language proficiency, and reducing chronic-absence rates, for example. This system for “annual meaningful differentiation” applies to all public schools, including public charter schools.
The impact: Members’ work will be evaluated based on their state’s measure of quality/student success.
Engagement opportunities:
  • Advocate for states and local education agencies (LEAs) to use accountability measures that accurately reflect their contribution to their state’s measurement of school performance. One example is PACE (Performance Assessment of Contributions and Effectiveness), ASHA’s tool that specifically assesses the performance of SLPs.

  • Advocate with states/LEAs to ensure that members are involved in the development of state plans and other activities.

Educator qualifications
The change: Although rules regarding educators’ qualifications include the terms “inexperienced” and “not teaching in the subject or field for which the teacher is certified or licensed,” the rules do not define the terms. States must establish definitions to be used by the state and its LEAs.
Each state and LEA report card must include (in the aggregate and separated by high- and low-poverty schools), the number and percentage of:
  • Inexperienced teachers, principals and other school leaders.

  • Teachers using emergency or provisional credentials.

  • Teachers who are teaching outside the subject or field for which they are certified or licensed.

The impact: States can hire staff who are not well prepared to deliver the full scope of practice, which may increase demands on ASHA-certified professionals. States that accept a range of qualifications may not fully understand certification requirements.
Engagement opportunities:
  • Educate decision-makers on the requirements—including graduate degree, clinical hours and continuing education—of the certificate of clinical competence in audiology and speech-language pathology.

  • Encourage districts to hire ASHA-certified professionals. In most states, SLPs must have ASHA certification or the equivalent to bill for Medicaid. Highly credentialed staff have more credibility in the case of due process proceedings.

Supporting excellent educators
The change: The state education agency (SEA) must describe several processes for teachers and principals or other school leaders, including the certification and licensing systems, educator preparation, compensation and advancement for school leaders. SEAs must establish definitions—with distinct criteria—for several terms, including ‘‘ineffective teacher,’’ ‘‘inexperienced teacher’’ and “out-of-field teacher.”
The impact: Audiologists and SLPs should receive appropriate evaluations based on their unique roles and responsibilities. Members must also have access to professional development that supports the identification of students with specific learning needs and that includes appropriate instruction for children with disabilities and with literacy-related delays or difficulties.
Engagement opportunities:
  • Make sure that your state’s plans include evaluation systems that include multiple measures of performance for specialized instructional support personnel (SISP, the staff category that includes audiologists and SLPs), including ASHA’s PACE tool; SISP access to quality professional development; and the identification of audiologists and SLPs as contributors to student success.

  • Work with LEAs and state departments of education to incorporate successful recruitment and retention strategies—such as appropriate and relevant professional development opportunities, workload management, compensation and mentoring—for audiologists, SLPs and other SISP.

Specialized instructional support personnel (SISP)
The change: ESSA acknowledges the need to engage all SISP (audiologists, SLPs, school psychologists, occupational therapists) in school-wide efforts and in the development of state plans and other activities. SISP, who provide critical components necessary to support instruction and student success in schools, are also included—although inconsistently—in a number of provisions in the regulations.
The impact: Audiologists and SLPs should be included in the development of state plans to ensure that all school-based professionals are engaged.
Engagement opportunities: Advocate/volunteer (through your state association) to be included on teams and committees that design and develop state accountability systems and plans, to ensure that the perspectives of audiologists and SLPs—and those they serve—are included.
Supporting all students
The change: A flexible block grant ($1.65 billion in fiscal year 2017) can be used for activities in three broad areas: providing students with a well-rounded education, supporting safe and healthy students, and supporting the effective use of technology.
The impact: Audiologists and SLPs are uniquely qualified to recommend, evaluate and monitor the appropriateness and benefits of technology for students with hearing loss or other communication disorders. School decision-makers are usually not well versed in these students’ technology needs and require this expertise.
Engagement opportunities:
  • Recognize that funding to meet the technology needs of students may be allowable through the ESSA block grant (Title 1, Part A).

  • Reach out to state leaders and local administrators to ensure that the funds are used to support the technology needs of students with hearing loss or other communication challenges.

  • Help develop strategies for documenting the need for and benefits from any recommended technology accommodations.

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April 2017
Volume 22, Issue 4