The New Education Law and ASHA Members The Every Student Succeeds Act gives school-based audiologists and speech-language pathologists a greater role in literacy efforts and more funding to carry them out. Policy Analysis
Policy Analysis  |   February 01, 2016
The New Education Law and ASHA Members
Author Notes
  • Neil Snyder is ASHA director of federal advocacy.
    Neil Snyder is ASHA director of federal advocacy.×
Article Information
Regulatory, Legislative & Advocacy / Policy Analysis
Policy Analysis   |   February 01, 2016
The New Education Law and ASHA Members
The ASHA Leader, February 2016, Vol. 21, 26-27. doi:10.1044/leader.PA.21022016.26
The ASHA Leader, February 2016, Vol. 21, 26-27. doi:10.1044/leader.PA.21022016.26
School-based audiologists and speech-language pathologists are included in literacy efforts and have more professional development opportunities under a new federal law that governs K–12 education for four years beginning with the 2016–2017 school year.
The long-awaited passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December 2015 reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and replaces No Child Left Behind. ESSA returns much authority and decision-making on student testing and accountability for student progress to states and local school districts (see sidebar below).
ASHA advocated for the literacy and professional development policies as well as for two additional provisions included in ESSA: expanded early intervening services and replacement of the antiquated “pupil services personnel” term with “specialized instructional support personnel” for the category of professionals that includes audiologists and SLPs.
Early intervening services
Schools that use SLPs and other personnel to help struggling learners in the general education classroom must use funds from the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to do so. Congress allowed all states—and mandated some with high disproportionality—to use up to 15 percent of their federal IDEA Part B funds for general education children at risk of being identified with a disability and a referral to special education.
Relying solely on IDEA funds to provide early intervening services drains critical and limited resources from other special education needs. ASHA was successful in having legislative language inserted into the bill and the conference report that gives states greater flexibility to use ESSA funds for early intervening and to coordinate those funds with similar programs in IDEA.
ESSA contains a new literacy program that replaces No Child Left Behind’s Early Reading First and Reading First programs. It allows schools to use all professional staff—including SLPs and audiologists—as appropriate to support literacy instruction. Possible uses of these literacy funds include:
  • Professional development opportunities “to support, develop, administer, and evaluate high-quality kindergarten through grade 5 [and 6 through 12] literacy initiatives.”

  • Meeting time for teachers (and other literacy staff such as school librarians or specialized instructional support personnel) to plan comprehensive literacy instruction.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who has a bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders and worked briefly in schools before attending law school, played a critical role in this language. She offered an amendment on the Senate floor to add school-based professionals such as audiologists and SLPs, as appropriate, to literacy efforts.
ESSA also establishes a “comprehensive center on students at risk of not attaining full literacy skills due to a disability.” The center will help identify or develop evidence-based professional development for teachers, paraprofessionals, principals, other school leaders and specialized instructional support personnel to:
  • Recognize early indicators of students at risk of not attaining full literacy skills due to a disability (including dyslexia) or developmental delay that affects reading, writing, language processing, comprehension or executive functioning.

  • Use evidence-based screening assessments for early identification of students beginning no later than kindergarten.

  • Implement evidence-based instruction designed to meet the specific needs of such students.

Professional development
States and local school districts may use ESSA funds to provide professional development opportunities for “specialized instructional support personnel.” ASHA members should be aware of this change and advocate for professional development funding through their state departments of education and local school district administration. These funding opportunities are “flexible”—states and school districts may, but are not required to, provide them.
ESSA defines professional development to include activities that are an integral part of helping students to succeed and that are “sustained (not standalone, one-day, or short-term workshops), intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, and classroom-focused.”
Specialized instructional support personnel
ASHA has long supported the replacement of “pupil services personnel” and “pupil services” with the term “specialized instructional support personnel,” a term developed by a coalition of non-teaching school-based professionals and organizations, including ASHA. The category also includes school-based psychologists, nurses, counselors, occupational and physical therapists, social workers, and others. ESSA includes this term and an updated definition, a change that ASHA analysis concludes will have no ancillary effects on school-based personnel or practices.
ESSA includes many professional categories—administrators, principals, teachers, other school leaders, specialized instructional support personnel, paraprofessionals, early childhood educators and instructional leaders. The definition of specialized instructional support personnel does not refer to assistants and requires these professionals to be “qualified.”
ASHA will closely monitor the regulatory process as ESSA is interpreted by the U.S. Department of Education, states and school districts.
Law Returns Decisions to States and Schools

The Every Student Succeeds Act puts decisions on student testing and accountability for students’ academic progress back in the hands of states and local districts, and eliminates the previous construct of “adequate yearly progress” toward 100-percent proficiency in certain subjects. It requires states to:

  • Test students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school (but states may choose the tests).

  • Break out testing data for schools and for different subgroups of students (English-language learners, students in special education, racial minorities, those in poverty).

  • Intervene in the lowest-performing 5 percent of elementary and middle schools and in high schools that graduate less than 67 percent of their students. However, states determine how to measure school accountability and the interventions to raise schools’ performance.

  • States have more freedom to choose their academic standards as long as they are aligned with college readiness, and are not required to adopt the Common Core State Standards. ESSA allows up to 1 percent of a state’s students with the most significant cognitive disabilities to take an alternate assessment aligned with the state’s alternate academic achievement standards.

ESSA eliminates public school choice and private school vouchers. It allows states to set teaching credential standards and has no federal definition of “highly qualified teacher” or teacher assessment requirement (but makes grant funds available if states wants to set up experimental systems to do so).

The law consolidates more than 40 unfunded or smaller federal education programs into a $1.6 billion block grant for student support and enrichment. And although authorized funding levels are generally higher than current levels, they are dependent on Congress to supply that increased funding—unlikely given current spending caps.

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February 2016
Volume 21, Issue 2