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How Are States Performing Under ESSA?

How Are States Performing Under ESSA?

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was first signed into law by President Obama in December 2015, and the first set of state accountability plans were submitted and reviewed by the U.S. Department of Education in April 2017. We are now several years into the implementation of ESSA; we have the first full year of school data from the 2017–18 school year; and states are currently in the midst of annual school testing. So, it seems like a good time to step back and take a look at how states are faring under ESSA accountability. To do this, we’ll examine the data and dashboards of a few states selected to show a variety of different approaches to ESSA accountability.

As a reminder, here are some ESSA facts:

  • ESSA provided states significant new freedom to define their own accountability plans within federal guidelines—so, dashboards and data vary considerably across different states.
  • States are required to set long-term goals and measure annual progress toward meeting those goals. For example, Tennessee plans to reduce by 50% the number of students below proficiency on the state tests by the 2024–25 school year. Illinois plans for 90% of all students and all subgroups to meet or exceed expectations on state tests by the 2031–32 school year.
  • States are required to measure proficiency in ELA, math, and science, and they can also include growth data in their academic indicator.
  • States must measure high school graduation rates but have some freedom to define cohorts.
  • All states are required to assess and track English language learners (ELLs).
  • States are required to publicly report data and have freedom to design their own dashboard and report cards. Some states, like Ohio, use simple letter grades (A–F) to label schools, while other states, like California, report data through a series of color-coded dashboard visualizations.
  • States are required to report data by subgroups so that we can see if schools, districts, and states are making progress toward closing achievement gaps.
  • States are required to have at least one nonacademic school quality indicator. While a number of states have several school quality indicators, most states, like New Jersey, are using one simple indicator: chronic absenteeism. Reducing chronic absenteeism is important because research shows that children who are chronically absent in grades pre-K–1 are much less likely to read at grade level by the 3rd grade. Students who cannot read at grade level by the end of 3rd grade are four times more likely than proficient readers to drop out of high school.

How Are States Performing on Their Goals?

At this point, we only have baseline data from one full school year’s implementation, 2017–18. Within the next five months, we will have complete data from the current 2018–19 school year and will be able to see early trends that will show if schools, districts, and states are making progress and improving outcomes. Here’s a look at 2017–18 baseline data from a variety of states with different approaches to measuring and reporting ESSA accountability:


California is using a series of complex, color-coded dashboards to visually show performance on state indicators, with interactive links that allow users to drill down into the data. California uses red as the lowest level of performance and blue as the highest level. The first year’s data show all indicators either orange or yellow. The long-term goal would move all indicators to “high” (green or blue) in seven years. One thing California educators note is that subgroups that are significantly lower on performance indicators have far more ground to make up in just seven years and will require new interventions and additional support.


The annual report card for Ohio schools rolls all state accountability data up into a single letter grade (A–F). At a state level, the 2017–18 school year data show that more than three-quarters of districts received a “C” or higher, and approximately 40% of schools received a “B” or higher. The overall grade is a first look, but it is important to dig deeper into the data to identify strengths and areas for improvement. From the school years of 201617 to 201718, Ohio schools saw a 1.6% increase in ELA and 0.2% increase in math proficiency rates. Ohio tracks an indicator called Prepared for Success that includes: scoring remediation free on the ACT® or SAT® test, earning an honors diploma, and earning an industry-recognized credential or group of credentials in one of 13 high-demand career fields. Performance on the Prepared for Success metric increased by 1.6% from 201617. One area of concern for Ohio students is the high rate of chronic absenteeism, which was 16% in 201718 (the goal was 13.6% this year). Ohio’s long-term goal for the chronic absenteeism indicator is 5% or lower.

Ohio’s individual school report cards can be found by using this search tool, where schools receive a letter grade in each performance area, such as Achievement, Graduation Rate, and Prepared for Success.


Connecticut has one of the most ambitious approaches to the school quality measure of ESSA accountability, including: chronic absenteeism, participation in college- or career-readiness coursework (AP®, IB®, CTE, etc.), percentage of 11th and 12th 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, and percentage of high school students taking at least one arts course in its state school quality indicator. The table below, taken from Connecticut’s Next Generation Accountability Results, shows how the state performed in 2017–18, as well as its 2029–30 long-term goals for each indicator.


Illinois’ state accountability plan outlines challenging long-term (15-year) goals that include:

  • All kindergartners are assessed for readiness.
  • 90% or more of 3rd grade students are reading at or above grade level.
  • 90% or more of 5th grade students meet or exceed expectations in mathematics.
  • 90% or more of 9th grade students are on track to graduate with their cohort.
  • 90% or more of students graduate from high school ready for college and/or careers.
  • All students are supported by highly prepared and effective teachers and school leaders.
  • Every school offers a safe and healthy learning environment for all students.

Illinois’ state report card provides an easy-to-read visual dashboard of indicators that show how the state is performing on ESSA accountability indicators against the state’s long-term goals. An example of that data below from the 2017–18 school year shows that, in several areas of academic achievement, the state has a long way to go and has truly set challenging student achievement goals.


The Texas legislature passed House Bill 22 in 2017, which requires changes to the state public school academic accountability system, creating three domains of indicators to measure district and campus progress toward meeting three main goals:

  • Preparing students for postsecondary success
  • Reducing achievement gaps among students from different racial and ethnic groups and socioeconomic backgrounds
  • Informing parents and the community about district and campus performance

Beginning with the 2017–18 school year, districts received A–F ratings for overall performance, as well as for performance in each of three domains:

  • Student Achievement
  • School Progress
  • Closing Performance Gaps

Below is a sample district dashboard showing how these annual ratings are displayed on the Texas School Report Card website.


Michigan’s long-term education plan outlines a strategy to be a top-10 education state in 10 years (by the 2024–25 school year). To measure Michigan’s ranking, which currently sits in the middle of the pack when looking at all states, the Michigan Department of Education is using a variety of data sources, including:

Michigan’s data dashboards allow users to sort and view data by district, school, and accountability indicator. The table below shows data from the 2017–18 school year. As required by ESSA guidelines, Michigan has created challenging long-term goals and, in most categories, has a lot of progress to make by the 2023–24 school year. For example, Michigan will need to nearly double the percentage of students proficient in math and ELA, from 30.7% currently to 60% by 2023–24. The four-year graduation rate will need to increase by 13.8% to reach the goal of 94.44% by the 2023–24 school year.

What’s Ahead for State Data Dashboards

It is important to remember that the 2017–18 school year was the first year of official ESSA state reporting. So, it’s too early to make judgements about either the quality or the performance of state ESSA plans. However, a number of groups have already weighed in with recommendations for enhancements to state systems to make them fairer and more transparent. Here are a few of those resources:

  • The National Urban League is taking a stand on ESSA through its No Ceilings on Success project, evaluating state performance from a lens of equity in education.
  • The Fordham Institute ranks state ESSA plans based on three key questions:
    1. Are the labels or ratings for schools clear and intuitive for parents, educators, and the public?
    2. Does the rating system encourage schools to focus on all students?
    3. Is the rating system fair to all schools, including those with high rates of poverty?
  • Check State Plans provides a review of 17 state accountability plans.
  • The Alliance for Excellent Education has created one-page Equity Dashboards that review each state’s ESSA plan with a simple red-yellow-green designation across each subpart of the accountability plan.

The most telling information will be exposed over the next few months as states complete their annual testing cycle, end the current school year, and report data from the second full year of ESSA implementation. These data will give us a new view into trends and answer some important questions. Are state ESSA plans truly improving conditions for learning and student success? Are ESSA plans closing achievement gaps? Or, are we continuing to simply identify those schools, communities, and children who struggle under the burden of equity and poverty?

Additional Resources:

  • Understanding ESSA has compiled information from national partners and advocacy groups as a one-stop shop for any interested party seeking guidance and clarity on how states are working to implement the new law with fidelity.
  • The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) has created an Accountability and Reporting Resource Library of ESSA state information.

Looking to stay up-to-date on all things ESSA-related? Be sure to check out the ESSA tag on our blog for the latest developments.