Top Six ESSA Trends in Student-Centered Accountability Design

Topics: Education Policy, ESSA

Learn six accountability trends that help advance personalized learning experiences for students in state draft and submitted ESSA plans.The Every Student Succeeds Act’s (ESSA) gift of broad flexibility for states to design accountability systems that align to their own vision of student success, opened the door to nationwide conversations about student-centered accountability practices. In fact, nearly every state in the nation has taken at least one step to integrate a personalized learning concept into its proposed ESSA accountability system. While these steps are small in some states, and more transformative in others, it’s clear we are moving into an era where the focus of state education systems is the individual success of each student, not just the students most likely to succeed.

So what are the new accountability trends that help advance personalized learning experiences for students? Here’s my list of the top six. For those wondering, these trends made my list mostly for their popularity, but also because we think they show great promise for creating positive incentives for improving teaching and learning.

1. Academic Proficiency Indices

Many states appear eager to move away from academic proficiency indicators that shine the greatest light on the students who fall just below or above proficiency (these students were often referred to in policy circles as “the bubble kids”). Instead, an overwhelming number of states are planning to adopt an index approach for the academic proficiency indicator where students receive partial credit for a score on the state assessment below proficiency and extra credit for a score that falls above proficiency. This approach incentivizes support for all students, ensuring they progress to deeper levels of mastery regardless of where they fall on the learning continuum. Check out AR, GA, MD, MS, NH, NY, RI, SC, and SD if you want to know more about what this looks like.

2. Extended-Year Graduation Rates

If ESSA plans are any indication, it seems we are ready to move beyond the conversation about whether our policies should focus on just four-year graduation rates. Of course, a four-year high school experience is ideal, but that expectation unfairly overlooks the needs of many students in our system that may require additional time to graduate. Most states are paying attention to those students as they establish ESSA long-term goals and accountability systems, emphasizing both four-year and extended year rates. This personalized approach sends a message to all students that we won’t give up on you if you are unable to graduate high school in four years.

3. Multiple Pathway Indicators

A personalized education system thrives when students have access to a wide range of learning opportunities that align with their interests, needs, and academic goals. Where No Child Left Behind was narrowly focused on math and English Language Arts, ESSA has given rise to other learning opportunities that prepare students for success in college and beyond. At the elementary and middle school level, some states are creating accountability indicators to emphasize access to a well-rounded curriculum including things such as the fine arts, music, PE, a library specialist, foreign language instruction, technology consistent with certain standards, co-curricular activities, and civics education. At the high school level, we are seeing an increasingly popular college and career readiness indicator that recognizes student access and completion of advanced coursework (including dual enrollment and early college high school programs), career pathway opportunities, and military-readiness. This emphasis on multiple pathways should lead to greater choice and opportunity for students so they remain engaged and on a path to success.

4. Student Voice Surveys

No one can dispute that students need to feel engaged, energized, and safe in order to learn. A handful of states have taken that to heart, proposing an indicator that asks the students directly whether they feel like they are in a safe and supportive learning environment. Surveys can be challenging to administer for accountability decisions, but they have great promise for elevating student voice in the learning process. The states that are looking to incorporate a student survey indicator (IL, IA, NV, NM, and SC so far) are emphasizing student engagement and school climate.

5. Dashboard Models

Those of us who followed the Obama Administration’s regulatory process for ESSA will remember the complicated dialogue about whether accountability systems had to report a single, summative score on school performance or whether they could adopt a dashboard approach to present more comprehensive data. While I empathize with the reasoning for a single, summative score, I believe when done well, there is great potential in building data dashboards that help stakeholders engage in deeper diagnostic conversations about the performance of a school. Some states have expressed their intention to build these dashboards (NY and VT to name a few). I am eager to see what they come up with and hope the field has the opportunity to see how powerful they can be to creating broad ownership and engagement in school reform.

6. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Indicators

I put this one last because, to be fair, no state – at least as-of-yet – has figured out how to integrate a high-quality and measurable (SEL) indicator into its accountability system. But what surprised me while reading through plans is how many states articulated this as a dominant theme that emerged in their state during the stakeholder engagement process. In fact, a handful of states, (CO and DE to name a few), even went as far as to say they intend to explore these indicators further and remain open to amending their accountability systems in future years. As an advocate of SEL who understands how deeply important it is to the success of our graduates in postsecondary and career, I find this nationwide conversation really encouraging.

I hope you find these trends as interesting and promising as I do. Of course, we have a lot to learn and refine in the implementation process. I just hope states continue to ask questions about how to put students first when they make improvements to their accountability systems.

Stay tuned next week for my post with real state examples from my favorite ESSA accountability plans. There are some great ideas out there to explore further!

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.