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[ESSA Update] How States Are Planning to Meet Accountability Requirements

[ESSA Update] How States Are Planning to Meet Accountability Requirements

Since the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law by then President Obama on December 10, 2015, states have had the mandate to design new accountability systems that would meet the requirements of the legislation and begin implementation in the 2017–18 school year. States have had over a year to design these plans, and now the time has come to begin submitting the new plans to the U.S. Department of Education for review and approval. There are two separate windows for review, with the first set of states submitting their accountability plans on April 3 and the remaining states submitting on September 18.

Most of the 20 states, as well as the District of Columbia, submitting on April 3 have published draft plans for public review, so it’s a great opportunity to look at some real examples of how states intend to meet the requirements of ESSA. In this blog, we’ll look at what various states are proposing in key areas: academic indicators, school-quality indicators, graduation rates, English-language acquisition, and state report cards. 

Academic Indicators

Each state is required under ESSA to report academic achievement on state tests in English language arts and math in grades 3–8 and one grade in high school, along with a science assessment once per grade span (elementary, middle, and high school). States can report achievement data as proficiency, growth, or a combination. Here are ways some states are planning to report academic achievement in their new ESSA system:

Arizona’s ESSA plan proposes using both proficiency and growth on the state assessment as academic indicators of success. Arizona also proposes measuring grade 3 reading using the MOWR (Move On When Reading) program.

Ohio proposes setting long-term academic goals of 80% proficiency on ELA, math, and science tests by 2027. Ohio also plans to use the existing Ohio Third Grade Reading Guarantee as the literacy component of their ESSA plan.

Tennessee plans to use a variety of academic indicators from both its state assessment and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to meet ESSA requirements. The state’s proposed long-term academic goals are to:

  • Reduce by 50% the number of students below proficiency on the state ELA, math, and science tests by year 2024–25
  • Rank in the top half of states as measured by the NAEP assessment by 2019
  • Have 75% of third graders achieve proficiency in reading by 2025

New Jersey proposes that 80% of all students and 80% of each subgroup will meet or exceed grade-level expectations on the state test by 2030. Both proficiency and growth (student growth percentiles) will be used to calculate the academic indicators for ELA and math.

Illinois is proposing that 90% of all students and all subgroups will meet or exceed expectations in ELA and math in 15 years (by 2032). In addition, 90% of grade 3 students will be reading on grade level by 2032.

School Quality Indicators

Prior to ESSA, states were not required to track and report accountability data for school quality beyond the NCLB academic requirements. Under ESSA, each state is required to include at least one school quality indicator beyond the academic requirements. Here are some examples of what states are proposing:

Arizona is proposing a variety of school quality indicators, including:

  • Reporting the number of grade 8 students taking high school end-of-course math tests
  • Ranking in the top 25% in ELA and math
  • High school student skills attainment as measured on:  SAT®, ACT®, AP®, and CTE exams

Ohio plans to reduce the chronic absenteeism rate to 5% or less by 2027. Ohio also plans to include “access to advanced coursework” in its accountability plans but hasn’t provided the specifics on what this means yet.

New Jersey also plans to measure chronic absenteeism as an indicator of school quality and defines this as any student absent more than 10% of the schoolyear.

Connecticut has one of the broadest set of school quality indicators, which include:

  • Participation rate on state summative tests
  • Chronic absenteeism
  • Participation in college or career readiness coursework (AP, IB®, CTE, etc.)
  • Percentage of 11 and 12 graders taking postsecondary and career readiness exams (SAT, ACT, AP, etc.)
  • Percentage of graduates entering two- or four-year postsecondary institutions
  • Physical fitness as measured by the state fitness assessment
  • Percentage of high school students taking at least one arts course

Graduation Rates

Currently under NCLB, every state tracks high school graduation rates, with 49 states including a four-year graduation rate in their accountability systems, 37 states including a graduation rate of five or more years, 11 states including drop-out rates, and five states including an “on-track to graduate” measure. As states transition to ESSA, they will continue to be required to track graduation rates and to set both long-term goals and measure interim progress toward achieving those goals. Here are some examples of what states are proposing in their ESSA plans:

Arizona set long-term goals for its graduation rate at 90% for all students (including all subgroups) by the year 2030, with interim progress set at 85% by the 2025. Arizona will use a four-, five-, six-, and seven-year adjusted cohort to calculate graduation rates.

Ohio set long-term goals for their graduation rate at 93% for the four-year graduation rate and 95% for the five-year rate by 2027.

Tennessee proposes that the combined graduation rate for all students will be 95% by 2024–25, with separate goals for each individual subgroup. Tennessee will also track an extended five-year graduation rate and the drop-out rate to encourage schools to continue to serve students who need more time to graduate.

New Jersey set a goal that 95% of all high school students will graduate within four years and at least 96% will graduate within five years.

Illinois plans to have 90% of all students and all subgroups graduating from high school college and career ready by 2032. The Illinois plan also calls for 90% of all grade 9 students to be on track to graduate by 2032.

English-Language Acquisition

Under NCLB, states were not required to include English-language acquisition in their state accountability reporting. In fact, only six states—Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Texas—currently include English learners’ data in their accountability system. ESSA requires all states to track and report on English-language acquisition in their accountability systems. Here are a few examples of what states are proposing:

Tennessee has a very specific set of interim and long-term goals for English language learners that includes 75% of ELL students meeting the annual WIDA ACCESS for ELLs growth standard by 2024–25. The plan also proposes that the majority of students will be proficient, exiting English-language development programs within six years. Tennessee’s interim growth goals break down as follows:

2014-15 baseline




















New Jersey proposes that English language learners will meet the annual growth expectation of the National Evaluation of Title III Implementation Report each year and all ELL students will be proficient in English after five years. To achieve this long-term goal, New Jersey proposes a 1% annual increase in growth target attainment.

Illinois currently has a rate of 63% of English language learners meeting annual proficiency standards on the ACCESS for ELLs. Illinois’ long-term goal is to increase the percentage of students meeting annual growth targets to 90% by the year 2032.

State Report Card Weighting Systems

ESSA allows states a great deal of flexibility in designing their data weighting system with the only guidance being that academic indicators must receive a greater overall weighting than other indicators. Understanding how various indicators are weighted in state plans is important because it ultimately defines which schools and districts will be identified for comprehensive or targeted support and improvement. Here are some examples of how states are weighting their performance indicators in proposed ESSA plans:

Arizona is proposing an overall weighting that puts most of the emphasis on proficiency and growth; it includes a variety of other indicators of success; and utilizes an A–F letter grade accountability index.  

Arizona’s proposed weighting for K–8 schools




Proficiency on statewide assessment


Growth on statewide assessment


Proficiency and growth, English language learners


Acceleration and readiness measures

Arizona’s proposed weighting for high schools




Proficiency on statewide assessment


Growth on statewide assessment


High school graduation rate


College and career readiness


Proficiency and growth, English language learners

New Jersey weights accountability with 90% importance placed on the academic indictors based on state test results, graduation rates, and English-language acquisition and 10% on school quality (absenteeism).

ESSA Required Indicator

New Jersey Measure


Academic Achievement

Proficiency on state tests


Academic Progress

Student growth percentiles (SPG)


Graduation Rates

Four-year and five-year graduation rates


English-Language Proficiency

Progress on the ACCESS for ELLs 2.0


School Quality

Chronic absenteeism


*SPG growth indicators are used only for elementary and middle schools.

**Graduation rates are used only for high schools.

Oregon is proposing that schools will receive no overall letter grade or score but will instead use a multiple-measure dashboard of indicators that reflect opportunities for students to learn, academic success, and college and career readiness. Oregon’s multiple-measures include:


Elementary/Middle School

High School

Opportunity to Learn

  • Chronic absenteeism
  • EL growth
  • EL proficiency
  • Exclusionary discipline
  • Chronic absenteeism
  • EL growth
  • EL proficiency
  • Exclusionary discipline

Academic Success

  • Growth in ELA
  • Growth in math
  • 9th grade-on-track
  • Achievement in ELA
  • Achievement in math

College and Career Readiness

  • Achievement in ELA
  • Achievement in math
  • Four- & five-year graduation rate
  • Completer rates (GED)
  • Postsecondary enrollment

Other Indicators

  • Access to full curriculum
  • Extracurricular learning
  • Community and family engagement
  • Access to full curriculum
  • Extracurricular learning
  • Community and family engagement

Preparing for the April 3 Reviews

As the first 20 states slated for review next month put the final touches on their ESSA accountability plans, the new administration under Betsy DeVos has rolled out a couple of last-minute changes for states to consider. First, Congress with the U.S. Department Education rescinded the regulatory guidance designed under the Obama administration to help states comply with ESSA. This doesn’t change any of the basic requirements in the ESSA law itself; it just returns additional flexibility to states in interpreting the law. Also, on March 13, just 20 days before states are due to submit their plans, the U.S. Department of Education released a revised template for states to use to submit those plans. Here are few key differences between the original and revised templates:

  • The new template is shorter, it includes fewer requirements, and it provides more flexibility.
  • It requires less outreach to and input from state educators and community members.
  • It eliminates a requirement for states to define how they will distribute school improvement funds. ESSA allows either formula or competitive distribution.
  • It no longer requires states to explain if a minimum subgroup size is above 30 students.

Because most states have made significant progress toward completing their draft plans under the original guidance, the new template with fewer detailed requirements should not be overly burdensome to states.

As we learn more in the next few months about the review and approval of these ESSA state accountability plans, it’s important to understand that districts and schools will see the impact of ESSA gradually over the next few years, as states begin to track the accountability data and report on school success. Check out this blog post to learn more about ESSA and what educators can expect to see in 2017, or check out one of these resources from the U.S. Department of Education: