ExcelinEd: Two ESSA Provisions Make Strong Case for Accountability
March 17, 2017

ESSA accountability regulations were overturned. What now? We know reform advocates will continue their work to support ESSA engagement and implementation at the state level. At the same time, a complicated landscape just became even more murky for those on the front lines. To help navigate through the complexities, we’re tapping the expertise of eight PIE Network federal-facing partners. ExcelinEd weighs in below.

ESSA Provides Key Legal Leverage Points to Uphold Accountability

Although the accountability regulations have been overturned, the ESSA statute provides key, legal leverage points for advocates committed to upholding rigorous accountability systems based on student outcomes.

For example, states must “establish a system of meaningfully differentiating, on an annual basis” of all schools based on: an indicator of academic achievement, another academic indicator (growth and/or graduation rate), English language proficiency and an indicator of school quality or student success. Those first three indicators must have “in the aggregate, much greater weight” than the school quality/student success indicator. ExcelinEd encourages advocates to use these provisions to make two important arguments:

1. States are required to make academic outcomes the focus of their accountability systems.

The indicator of school quality or student success could be academic in nature. Many states are proposing growth of the lowest-performing students in a school and indicators of college and career readiness measured by student success in AP and IB programs, dual enrollment courses and industry-recognized certifications.

Although “much greater weight” is not clearly defined in ESSA, state accountability systems must be based primarily on academic outcomes. ExcelinEd recommends states limit non-academic indicators because such indicators tend to be outside the school’s control (parent survey response rates), fail to differentiate among schools (attendance), create perverse incentives (safety and discipline), or are not meaningful to the student (course participation).[i]

2. Summative ratings of school performance are best practice and a logical means of complying with ESSA’s accountability provisions.

Summative ratings are not explicitly required by ESSA, but it is difficult to demonstrate “meaningfully differentiating” or academic indicators receiving “much greater weight” – without an annual summative rating.  Summative ratings – like A-F school grades – are a critical piece of effective school accountability systems and remain consistently popular with the public.

Check out ExcelinEd’s Playbook for A-F School Accountability Under ESSA and our #AskExcelinEd series to dig deeper.

[i] EdTrust, Students Can’t Wait, 2016

Eight PIE Network federal-facing partners weighed in with advice for state advocates. Check out the complete list of responses. 


Claire Voorhees

Claire is the director K-12 Reform at the Foundation for Excellence in Education.


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