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Reports from Policy Analysts

Virginia's Transition to ESSA

Submitted On: Thursday, February 2, 2017

Analyst: Khawaja, Mabel

Virginia’s Transition to Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA)

Virginia’s Board of Education is implementing ESSA by “developing a new vision for the commonwealth’s public schools that focuses on continuous improvement for all schools and aligning student outcomes with the expectations of higher education and employers from all sectors.” Contrary to the provisions of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), ESSA requires that the same standards be applied for all students to align with the entrance requirements for credit-bearing coursework in the state’s system of public higher education and with applicable state career and technical education standards.”

ESSA also requires that low-income and minority students in Title I schools not be taught at higher rates by ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers supports; this approach is in sync with NCTE policy to provide “equitable access to rich and compelling learning opportunities and transformative curricula for all students, including those students struggling with school expectations and English language learning.” Of interest, will be the “Equity Plans” of the Board of Education to bridge the achievement gap in Virginia Schools. Will the new vision for Virginia’s public schools afford equitable opportunities for all students to meet entrance requirements for the state’s public higher education?

In his “Revised Memo” (July 22, 2016) Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction, Steven R. Staples, addresses the changes that apply to teacher qualifications during the transition phase. ESSA has eliminated the NCLB terms “highly qualified teacher” and “highly qualified paraprofessional.” However, “students must still be taught by teachers who are properly licensed and endorsed for the classes they are assigned to teach.” Paraprofessional instructors in Title I schools must have earned a secondary school diploma or its recognized equivalent.” Additionally, paraprofessionals must:

  1. Complete two years of study at an institution of higher education; or
  2. Obtain an associate (or higher) degree; or “meet a rigorous standard of quality and be able to demonstrate, through a formal state or local academic assessment, knowledge of and the ability to assist in instructing reading, writing, and mathematics (or, as appropriate, reading readiness, writing readiness, and mathematics readiness).”

The flexibility concerning the qualifications of teachers, especially paraprofessionals, underscores the need for collaboration between higher education and Virginia School Divisions to provide a high quality and well-rounded education that will prepare students for success in their prospective careers. Moreover, this collaboration needs to be transparent in implementing locally designed solutions to close the achievement gap of the underperforming Title 1 Schools.


Academic Level

Higher Education



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