The One Piece Needed to Complete the ESSA Puzzle

As of December 2015, education is changing again. The United States has passed the bipartisan, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in hopes of it improving education.

The White House sums up this bill by saying, “The bill rejects the overuse of standardized test and one-size-fits-all mandates on our schools, ensures that our education system will prepare every child to graduate from high school ready for college and careers, and provides more children access to high-quality state preschool programs.”


Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, as educators you know that making these changes and getting these results is not as easy as waving a magic wand. The real implementation doesn’t come from the government, it comes from our hard-working teachers!

The ESSA’s desire to “hold students to a high academic standard to prepare them for success in college and career,” is something everyone wants. It seems one of the biggest steps to making this happens is to change the way we assess our students.

We at SOAR® applaud the focus towards problem-solving and critical-thinking assessments, as opposed to current, content driven standardized tests. It’s about time we hop on board that train. Finland has been doing it for decades. It’s why their students consistently score at the top of all countries in standardized tests. And have one of the best education systems in the world.

USA! USA! USA! This is where we start chanting right? Not quite yet…We know that problem-solving and critical-thinking are two of the most important skills in both school and the workplace. So, testing students this way does make sense!

However, if you are going to make a radical change in the way you assess students, you need a corresponding, radical change in the skills you teach students.

The Missing ESSA Puzzle Piece

The part the ESSA forgot to mention is how we are going to prepare students to reach these new standards. In many classrooms, the way we educate will stay the same. Does that mean we expect students will adapt their learning styles and acquire skills automatically –on their own— without any support to meet demands of assessments we’ve created?

If we want students to think critically and solve problems (on a test, in college, or in career) we need to deliberately and overtly teach these skills to students. You wouldn’t test a student on the solar system, without first teaching them about the solar system. You wouldn’t assess a student on the Revolutionary War, without first teaching them about the Revolutionary War.

Why don’t we approach these problem-solving and critical-thinking skills the same way? Because we ourselves have them, but don’t understand what these skills even are or where to start!

The skills in question are learning and soft skills. They are problem-solving, critical-thinking, time-management, communication with peers and superiors, etc. They are all the things, as my grandpa would say, “you can’t learn in school”. Implying that they can only be learned chopping wood out in the backyard, outside of the formal education world.

Now you have a decision to make. Are you going to have your students set the example of success? And be a pioneer? Or, are you going to fall into the trap of “it’s never been done that way”, and hope your students figure it out themselves?

The choice is up to you!

If you’re ready to be a pioneer, SOAR® is here to help. The SOAR® Learning & Soft Skills Curriculum for College & Career Readiness (aka SOAR® Study Skills Curriculum) teaches the most critical learning, organizing, and communication skills needed to be successful in school and in the workplace. To learn more, click here.

P.S. The ESSA says it’s going to “require districts to use evidence-based models” when implementing school programs. Lucky for you, SOAR® is both research-based and evidence based:



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