The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was a big win for states—shifting much of the authority for public education vision and goals from the federal government to state policymakers, leaders and educators. ESSA doubles down on the notion that, given flexibility, states will find innovative methods for strengthening their plans to prepare all students for college and careers.
But an independent peer review of 51 state plans facilitated by the Collaborative for Student Success, in partnership with Bellwether Education Partners, finds that numerous states are not taking advantage of ESSA’s flexibility. Many are failing to adequately set, measure and address those educational goals for their public schools, particularly when it comes to addressing equity and school improvement.
The review flagged some troubling themes and omissions in the plans.
For example, 41 states do not incorporate “subgroup” performance into ratings for all schools, which can mask how well schools are serving all its students. Twenty-four states do not require failing schools to demonstrate a certain level of improvement before they can exit that status and avoid corrective-action requirements. Fifteen states lack easy-to-understand ratings for how a school is performing. And only two states explain how they intend use all available funds for school improvement, leaving the opportunity on the table to align those funds to state priorities.
For sure, there is no one-size-fits-all method to accountability. Rather, each state will reflect the unique aspects and approaches that it believes will best advance student outcomes.
It is for this very reason that we assembled this 45-member group of education policy experts—including former state chiefs, teachers and experts—from around the country to look at each state plan and note both the highlights and the areas that fall short.
The group’s widely varying politics and ideologies forced serious discussions about each state’s plan.
Contrary to the larger trend, some states did stand out. In this most recent round, looking at the 34 states that submitted their plans to the U.S. Department of Education in September, five states were praised for implementing high standards and aligned assessments, three more for their plans to support struggling schools, one for its plans to measure student proficiency and growth and one for the rigorous criteria it has in place for how schools exit corrective-action or improvement status.
Should we expect these accountability plans to be a perfect blueprint for improving student outcomes? Of course not. But these plans matter because they punctuate a state’s commitment to its students and they set the vision and rhythm for educational success.
Learn more about our independent peer review of state accountability plans at www.checkstateplans.org.