ESSA: Bright Spots in Student-Centered Accountability Design

Topics: Education Policy, ESSA

KnowledgeWorks Senior Director of National Policy shares examples of states advance student-centered concepts in their accountability systems under ESSA.As I shared in my post last week, states are embracing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) as an opportunity to advance student-centered concepts in their accountability systems. While complete system transformation is a high bar, a few improvements now can create the momentum for major change down the road. So, where do I see momentum building? Keep reading for a few bright spots that peaked my imagination.

Nebraska: A Compelling Vision for Accountability Design

One of the hardest tasks in accountability design is identifying the core tenants that will drive your system. Nebraska engaged in this process in 2014 after the legislature enacted legislation requiring a new accountability system for public schools and districts. The new system, called AQuESTT (Accountability for a Quality Education System Today and Tomorrow), includes six tenets for student and school success that are strongly aligned to a vision for personalized learning.

  1. Positive partnerships, relationships & student success – This tenant includes engagement with families and communities as key to enhancing educational experiences and focuses on individualized/personalized learning plans for students.
  2. Transitions – This tenant emphasizes supports for students transitioning between grade levels, programs and ultimately college and/or career.
  3. Educational Opportunities and Access – This tenant includes a focus on comprehensive instructional opportunities to be prepared for education and career goals including early childhood education, expanded learning opportunities and blended learning.
  4. College and Career Ready – This tenant emphasizes areas that help every student become ready for college or career opportunities through rigorous standards, technology/digital readiness and support for career awareness and career/college goals.
  5. Assessment – This tenant is based on the belief that multiple types of assessment including national, state and classroom-based, and individualized/adaptive assessments should be used to measure student growth and achievement.
  6. Educator Effectiveness – This tenant is based on the belief that students should be surrounded by effective educators throughout their learning experiences.

Nebraska is still in the process of aligning AQuESTT to ESSA, but plans to include a school quality and student success indicator in its accountability system that measures school and district responses to questions based on these six tenets. Future drafts of the state’s plan will include more detail about the indicator.

Vermont – Communicating a Deeper Picture of School Performance

Vermont has a rich legislative history of advancing personalized learning. This includes legislation to advance personalized learning plans, multiple pathways and perhaps the best diagnostic process I have seen for school improvement. The state continues to build on this legacy in its ESSA plan with a commitment to capturing and communicating comprehensive information on school performance in a simple and actionable way.

To accomplish this, the state will integrate a wide range of data from its own system with reporting requirements for ESSA to create a display that communicates a single, summative rating as well as deep diagnostic information on school performance.  All measures in the accountability system will be linked to a four-label level to describe performance: Off-Target, Near Target, On-Target and Bull’s Eye. For each measure, and for the school as a whole, a scale is generated which describes the degree to which the school is meeting the “target.” An image of an arrow moving toward a bullseye will visually depict a school’s current status and growth status (the difference in performance from year-to-year) as well as progress on an equity index meant to shine a spotlight on the year-to-year change for historically marginalized students. This approach aligns well to the state’s commitment to proficiency-based learning (also known as competency education in some circles) and is meant to support the continuous improvement of all schools.

Louisiana: Elevating Student Interest and Opportunity

During the stakeholder engagement process for ESSA, state officials in Louisiana identified a strong interest in expanding student access to a well-rounded education. Specifically, stakeholders wanted a system that providing learning experiences that align to student interests and career pathways. In response to this feedback, the state is proposing to include an Interests and Opportunities indicator that will determine whether all schools – from elementary through high school – are exposing students to diverse learning experiences that help develop their skills and talents. A work group comprised of superintendents, principals, educators, practitioners and experts will provide 2025 goals for this component and will identify fair ways of measuring access to these student experiences. Louisiana’s Accountability Commission will propose a method for scoring desired outcomes for all schools and the state will provide a plan to USED prior to implementation for review and approval.

Here’s a sampling of how the state is thinking about diverse learning experiences:

  • Elementary and Middle School Levels – Schools should offer every Louisiana student access to quality visual and performing arts, foreign language instruction, technology consistent with current standards, and a variety of co-curricular activities (academic, athletic, and special interest clubs), all of which are supported by research-based evidence.
  • High School Level– Schools should provide students the opportunity to take courses needed to successfully transition to postsecondary studies, including courses for college credit and those that lead to a recognized industry credential. Schools should also offer students a variety of statewide Jump Start training pathways leading to advanced credentials, or an associate’s degree aligned to top-demand occupations.

These are just a few of the ideas that peaked my interest while reading through state plans. While they show promise, it is important to remember that accountability systems do not operate in a vacuum. A high-quality student-centered education system is the sum of all its parts, and accountability is just one piece that must be aligned to a powerful vision for student success.

See for yourself how states are incorporating personalized learning into their ESSA state plans and what is happening in your state with our interactive map.See for yourself how states are incorporating personalized learning into their ESSA state plans and what is happening in your state with our interactive map.