ESSA: What are the States Measuring?


In our previous post, we mentioned what key component was missing from many state plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Today we’re taking a look at what (and how) states are measuring non-academic indicators in their plans.

Accountability Goals

States are either setting fixed or relative goals for student achievement. A fixed goal requires all students to aim for the same target. Relative goals are dependent on the schools starting point and can be different depending on the student group being evaluated. Since fixed goals have the same endpoint, it's easier to see the gap that needs to be closed over time and manage expectations. Using relative goals might mean that some student groups won’t have the same end of year target as higher achieving student groups.

Numerous groups advocating for vulnerable populations, like the Education Trust, prefer the fixed goal option. They say that, as long as the goals are ambitious but achievable, fixed goals send the message that all populations should be at the same level of achievement. States with relative goals will face the challenge of making sure schools understand that they should not be lowering expectations for certain student populations. 

School ratings system

Many states are still using an A-F grade rating system to convey how schools are doing to the public. Some states plan on using a point system to arrive at those A-F grade ratings and some will publish both the point system results and the grade rating. Alternatively, some states will assign a text-based rating that summarizes the results of school quality and academic achievement indicators. For example, Minnesota will be rating schools by Category A, Category B, etc.

Other states plan on utilizing a dashboard-like system that will report individual indicators rather than summarizing all indicators into a single rating. Some also plan on publishing both the final rating along with the dashboard in order to show the public which individual indicators contributed.

There are a few other states, like Vermont, that have developed their own rating system. Vermont's school rating system will use the graphic below to share their summative results.

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Academic Indicators

Most states are measuring academic achievement, growth in reading and math, graduation rates, English-language proficiency, and participation and/or achievement in state assessments. Other popular indicators are those based on college readiness and achievement in science.

School Quality Indicators

As touched on in our past article, ESSA requires one non-academic indicator to be included when measuring a school’s performance. Many states have chosen to measure chronic absenteeism. Attendance is an indicator that is already measured in every school and attendance data is fairly easy to analyze. However, in order to decrease chronic absenteeism schools, will have to evaluate and address the reasons why particular students are consistently late or absent. Some states will measure other standards like: out-of-school suspensions, post-secondary outcomes, student engagement as measured through surveys, completion of advanced coursework (like AP and IB courses), and access to arts education.  

Measuring subgroup size (‘n’ size)

The subgroup size, also referred to as the “n” size, is the minimum number of students needed to form a subgroup for accountability and reporting purposes. Many advocacy groups like Alliance for Excellent Education stress that a smaller subgroup size, around 10 students, is ideal to capture a large number of subgroups. A larger n-size means that some schools will be left out of accountability all together. These schools might not be able to access certain areas of funding because they don’t have enough students to fill the larger n-size number. Of the 50 states plans, only 15 states plan to use the recommended n-size of 10.

State testing opt-outs

ESSA requires that students who opt out of state mandated assessments be marked as not proficient on those exams. This could directly impact the ability of schools to reach the requirement for testing 95% of students. If the following 11 states fail to reach that 95% requirement, their school rating will be negatively impacted: Alaska, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wyoming. In Colorado and New York, where the opt out movement is rather strong, schools that can’t meet that 95% threshold would have to come up with a plan to increase testing numbers. Still, the opt out movement may be fading as ESSA returns decision-making to the states. New York saw a 2% drop in their testing opt out rate in the last year.

It’s important to remember that states may alter their plans slightly as implementation begins. Compare state plans here to see how your state matches up.