In 2015, when the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaced No Child Left Behind as the overarching national education law, it created a new opportunity for states, districts and schools to create accountability systems that include a focus on the whole child, not just academics. All 50 states and Washington, D.C., have now submitted their plans outlining how they will implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and Healthy Schools Campaign is pleased to see that most states have included a whole child focus in their new accountability systems.
Chronic absenteeism, which can be an excellent proxy measure for a host of physical and social-emotional health issues, is included as part of the school quality measure in 36 state plans; seven state plans also propose using student fitness/physical education. Including these measures in state accountability systems means schools will be required to make them a priority in order meet goals in these areas and to provide systems of support around these issues for struggling schools.
Furthermore, at least 32 states are planning to define chronic absenteeism as a percentage of school days missed rather than a total number of missed days, which allows them to see and address problems much earlier. And, the majority of the draft state ESSA plans also include language outlining the importance of supporting a positive school climate and highlighting health and wellness as a school improvement strategy. (Check out the state plans from Tennessee, Illinois and Connecticut for good examples.)
Now the challenge will be in supporting states, districts and schools in implementing these new measures and ensuring that districts and schools have effective tools to help implement strategies to address these issues and support the whole child. Moving forward, HSC will work with a number of states to support their efforts to implement ESSA in a way that supports health. Given what we know about the critical connection between health disparities and the academic achievement gap, supporting schools and school districts in using Title I funding to create healthier school environments as a school improvement strategy is a critical strategy to improving academic outcomes.
To find out more, check out HSC’s State ESSA Plans to Support Student Health and Wellness: A Framework for Action, which includes downloadable guides and informative webinars on the overall framework, as well as spotlights on specific issues such as chronic absenteeism, nutrition and physical activity, and mental health and wellness.