The New Every Student Succeeds Act (ESEA/ESSA), and Multi-Tiered and Special Education Services

Building Strong Schools to Strengthen Student Outcomes—A Summer Review of Previous Blogs (II of IV)

Dear Colleagues,


Happy (early) Fourth of July !!!

Knowing that we are sometimes not able to “fully digest” all of the interesting and innovative information coming at us during the school year, I am devoting my “Summer Series” to helping you to read, re-read, or re-conceptualize my most-popular Blogs by organizing them in a thematic way.

To be more specific, I have reviewed and organized virtually all of these popular, well-“Liked” Blogs into four clusters:

  • School Improvement, Strategic Planning, and Effective School and Schooling Policies and Practices
  • The New Every Student Succeeds Act (ESEA/ESSA), and Multi-Tiered and Special Education Services
  • Students’ Mental Health Status and Wellness, and School Discipline and Disproportionality
  • School Climate and Safety, and School Discipline and Classroom Management

The Summer Series began on June 17 focusing on the Blogs that broadly addressed School Improvement.

The Series continues on July 15 and July 29, respectively, with the latter two clusters above.

But today, this message discusses my past Blogs addressing the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESEA/ESSA), and multi-tiered and special education services.

Below, I provide you with the Dates and Titles of past Blog messages in this cluster—so you can look up and read at your “summer leisure” those that particularly interest you.

In addition, I continue (immediately below) the overview of Project ACHIEVE begun in the June 17 Blog.

Project ACHIEVE is the evidence-based national model school improvement program (as designated in 2000 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration—SAMHSA) that I have developed over the past 30 years, and that is the foundation behind my thinking, writing, and practice.

Project ACHIEVE components have been implemented in “Great to Greater” through “Needs Improvement” preschools through high schools nationwide—as well as in alternative, residential treatment, juvenile justice, special education, and other specialized school centers.

In the June 17 Blog, I provided an overview of Project ACHIEVE. Below, I discuss Project ACHIEVE’s primary goals and outcomes, and the significant differences between Project ACHIEVE as a model versus other school improvement and discipline approaches that are “frameworks.”

Project ACHIEVE’s Primary Goals and Outcomes

Project ACHIEVE is an innovative school reform and school improvement program that has been implemented in schools and school districts in every state in the country since 1990. To date, one or more of its components have been presented to thousands of schools nationwide—in schools ranging from urban to suburban to rural, and from the lowest performing to the highest performing schools in the nation.

At its core, Project ACHIEVE provides implementation blueprints that are based on research-proven and empirically-demonstrated effective practices woven together into an implementation process that works.

Initially, we work with schools to complete a comprehensive needs assessment and resource analysis to determine their current needs, the approaches they are using that are working, the gaps that are preventing them from improving further, and the strategic goals and outcomes that are indicated or desired.

Project ACHIEVE’s evidence-based whole-school design and school improvement process focuses on the following goals:

  1. To enhance the problem-solving skills of teachers and other educators such that effective interventions for students experiencing or at-risk for academic and/or social-behavioral difficulties are developed and implemented.
  2. To improve the classroom and behavior management skills of school personnel and increase the prosocial and self-management skills of students such that safe and disciplined environments are created that increase students’ academic engaged time and their positive interpersonal, problem-solving, and conflict resolution skills.
  3. To ensure comprehensive, high quality educational services to all students in the school, and to intervene strategically with those students who are not performing at their expected levels, serving them, as much as possible, in regular classroom settings with equal access to all programs.
  4. To increase the social and academic progress of students by increasing the commitment and involvement of parents and community resources in the education of their children. This is accomplished, more specifically, through parents’ direct involvement in the schoolwork and schooling of their children, and through their use of effective parenting and supervision skills; and through additional support and wrap-around services by community-based resources and other leaders.
  5. To validate the various components of Project ACHIEVE during the school’s comprehensive continuous improvement process, and to develop the school’s capacity to independently maintain and expand the Project’s activities and outcomes as quickly as possible.
  6. To create a school climate in which every teacher, staff member, and parent believes that everyone is responsible for every student in that building and community.

To accomplish these goals, we work with schools and school districts to:

  • Maximize Students’ Academic Achievement
  • Create Safe School Environments and Positive School Climates
  • Build Effective Teaching and Problem-Solving Teams that Speed Successful Interventions to Challenging Students
  • Increase and Sustain Effective Classroom Instruction
  • Increase and Sustain Strong Parent Involvement
  • Develop and Implement Effective Strategic Plans
  • Organize Building Committees and Student Learning Clusters
  • Develop Effective Data Management Systems for Outcome Evaluations

This work utilizes an approach that uses a sequential and explicit activity-oriented evidence-based implementation model approach—rather than a menu-oriented “choose what you want to do” framework approach.

Differentiating Models versus Frameworks

In a framework approach to school improvement or school-wide initiatives, schools are given a list of activities that may or may not be evidence-based, and that other schools (or the developers) have used in the past—toward some specific goal. A number of national school improvement approaches—for example, MTSS, PBIS, and SEL—use frameworks in their practices.

The problem here is that these frameworks allow schools and districts to largely set their own goals, and choose which components and activities they believe will help them to accomplish these goals.

Critically, these choices may not be the BEST or most-needed approaches as schools tend to choose (a) the easiest or least intrusive activities to implement; (b) the ones they have the available resources for; (c) the ones recommended by others (but not necessarily right for them); or (d) those that specific leaders think “are right” (but may not be given the history, status, needs, and staffing in a specific school).

Framework approaches also tend to use “Train the Team” and “coaching” approaches where a representative group of school staff are trained in their chosen components, and then the Team is encouraged to “coach” their colleagues toward implementation integrity and “success.” At times, one designated staff person actually becomes the primary implementation coach.

This just simply does not work.

In thousands of schools, I have seen well-meaning coaches attempt to implement sophisticated psychoeducational processes and activities that they have just learned, they do not fully understand, they have never successfully implemented independently, where they are largely left to implement on their own—with NO on-site expert technical assistance.

When “Framework staff” DO go on-site, it typically is to evaluate the degree and integrity of implementation, NOT to provide on-going consultation and implementation assistance.

This is like sending a team to a three-day training to teach them—for the first time—how to electrically wire a new apartment building. With one team member designated the “Foreman,” the team proceeds to implement the training. And then, after three to six months of construction, the “City Inspectors” come to see if the wiring is “up to code.”

I’m sure we can all guess the outcome here.

In contrast, Project ACHIEVE uses an evidence-based implementation model approach—with on-site expert training, consultation, and technical assistance. As noted above, this begins with an on-site comprehensive needs assessment, resource analysis, and strategic action planning process. This helps to identify clear, strategic, actionable, and needed goals and outcomes, along with an agreed-upon personalized action plan that specifies needed resources, training, implementation steps, and formative and summative evaluations.

The Project ACHIEVE model proceeds with specific, sequenced activities in the (up to seven school improvement) interdependent components that are chosen based on the needs assessment and the school or district’s clarified goals.

While these activities are tailored to the current status and needs of the site, this sequence—and the best components and activities to use—has been field-tested and validated in thousands of school implementations across the country over 30 years.

Continuing the contrast: Project ACHIEVE provides on-site professional development and technical assistance using skilled specialists who focus on school-based activities in their areas of expertise (rather than a “distance learning” approach).

It also uses a “consultation” (as opposed to “coaching”) approach where external and internal experts (i.e., existing school and district staff, and community and regional professionals) use their skills to work with school and district colleagues to enhance their skills.

Thus, Project ACHIEVE relies on the professional expertise of others; it does not put staff in positions where they are responsible for guiding the implementation of processes that they, themselves, have just learned and have never used successfully on their own.

The New “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESEA/ESSA), and Multi-Tiered and Special Education Services

Literally starting TODAY (based on the original legislation), states, districts, and schools are now responsible for the implementation of the Élementary and Secondary Education Act/Every Student Succeeds Act” that was passed in December, 2015.

Embedded in ESEA/ESSA are a number of provisions for multi-tiered services, and ESEA/ESSA was written to work “hand-in-hand” with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004) which guides the provision of services to students with disabilities.

Over the past three years, I have written a number of Blogs discussing the functional implications of different parts of ESEA/ESSA, and how the U.S. Department of Education (and a number of its funded National Technical Assistance Centers) have misled educators as to what is (and is not) mandated by federal law relative multi-tiered and special education services (specifically, MTSS and PBIS).

Below is a list of the Dates and Titles of the Blogs addressing topics in these areas. To find the Complete Blog Cited Below:

Please go to the right-hand side of this Blog page. There you will find a Blog Archive. Using that Archive, pull down the month and year of the Blog you are interested in, and click on the Blog’s title to link to the original message.

Here are the Past Blogs:

Federal Law: ESEA/ESSA

February 4, 2017: ESEA/ESSA, School Improvement, Race/Ethnic Status, and Students with Disabilities: We Need to Differentiate Disability Just as We Differentiate Race and Ethnicity

January 22, 2017: ESEA/ESSA Tells Schools and Districts: Build Your Own Multi-Tier System of Supports for Your Students’ Needs--- Focus on Your Principles, Students, and Staff. . .and Verify the ESEA/ESSA “Guidance” Advocated by Some National Groups

July 24, 2016: Rethinking School Improvement and Success, Staff Development and Accountability, and Students' Academic and Behavioral Proficiency: Using ESEA/ESSA’s New Flexibility to Replace the U.S. Department of Education’s Ineffective NCLB Initiatives

March 4, 2016: The New ESEA/ESSA: Discontinuing the U.S. Department of Education's School Turn-Around, and Multi-tiered Academic (RtI) and Behavioral (PBIS) System of Support (MTSS) Frameworks

April 10, 2015: The NEW ESEA Draft: Tell Congress that Capital Letters Make a Difference

Multi-Tiered and Special Education Service Delivery

May 14, 2017: The Endrew F. Decision Re-Defines a “Free Appropriate Public Education" (FAPE) for Students with Disabilities: A Multi-Tiered School Discipline, Classroom Management, and Student Self-Management Model to Guide Your FAPE (and even Disproportionality) Decisions (Part III)

April 22, 2017: The Endrew F. Decision Re-Defines a “Free Appropriate Public Education" (FAPE) for Students with Disabilities: A Multi-Tiered Academic Instruction-to-Intervention Model to Guide Your FAPE Decisions (Part II)

April 2, 2017: Special Education Services Just Got Easier. . . and Harder: The Supreme Court's Endrew F. Decision Re-Defines a “Free Appropriate Public Education” for Students with Disabilities (Part I)

December 18, 2016: What the Next Director of the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) Needs to Do: My “First 100 Days” if I was Appointed the New OSEP Director

September 25, 2016: U.S. Department of Education Reminds Educators about Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports for Students with Disabilities: But. . . Watch Out for Their Recommendations and References

September 5, 2016: Political Doublespeak, Students with Disabilities, and Common Sense: A Legal Case Study on Students’ Rights and Standards-based IEPs. . . How Departments of Education Use Language, Fear, and Ignorance to Get their Way

March 4, 2016: The New ESEA/ESSA: Discontinuing the U.S. Department of Education's School Turn-Around, and Multi-tiered Academic (RtI) and Behavioral (PBIS) System of Support (MTSS) Frameworks

November 14, 2015: New U.S. Department of Education Report: Students in RtI Tier II Interventions are Losing Ground. What the Report Says. . .Why RtI is Not Working. . . Recommendations for Improving the RtI Process

October 20, 2015: Want to Improve Student Learning? Look at your "Instructional Environments" - - Standards Don't Teach . . . Teachers Do !!!

February 15, 2015: Your State's Guide to RtI: Some Statutes Just Don't Make Sense- - What your Department of Education isn't Sharing about its Multi-tiered/Response-to-Intervention Procedures

January 31, 2015: Correcting the Flaws: The Feds’ Thinking on Academic Proficiency and Results Driven Accountability

November 22, 2014: Academically Struggling and Behaviorally Challenging Students: Your Doctor Wouldn’t Practice this Way


I hope you find these Blogs important and meaningful to your work.

Meanwhile, I always look forward to your comments. . . whether on-line or via e-mail.

If I can help you in any of the areas discussed in this and these Blog messages, I am always happy to provide a free one-hour consultation conference call to help you clarify your needs and directions on behalf of your students, staff/colleagues, school(s), and district.

Please accept my best wishes for the continuation of your safe, restful, and fun summer !!!