State-by-state Look at Submitted ESSA Plans
April 28, 2017

Twelve states and Washington, D.C. submitted their proposed plans to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), meeting the U.S. Department of Education’s early April submission deadline. The submitted plans provide an opportunity for advocates to understand how different states are approaching key components of the law.

PIE Network advocates from Delaware, Washington D.C., Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, and Tennessee weighed in on their state plans and offered advice to other advocates.


Education Week has produced an interactive grid that highlights the stated goals, school ratings, academic indicators, school quality indicator, subgroup n-size, and testing opt-outs of each state’s plan as well as a direct link to the state’s submitted plan. Click the image above or this link to go to EdWeek’s tracker.

Trends Across States

  • Leaders in several states applauded improved school rating systems that will better inform parents. Additionally, smaller subgroup sizes and more detailed subgroup data impressed advocates in multiple regions.
  • Common concerns included a lack of clarity around school improvement. Multiple members noted incomplete details on how schools are selected for intervention or how the support process will work.
  • One area advocates disagreed on was the weight of proficiency versus growth in school ratings. Some reformers worked to increase growth’s weight while others worked to reduce it.
  • While every state is different, leaders across the country recommended working in diverse coalitions to ensure the needs of all students are represented. Another common tip: focus on outcomes instead of inputs when working to develop accountability systems. Finally, advocates repeatedly mentioned ensuring that the system is designed to prioritize students, not adults.

Click the name of a state below to see additional details about their state plan.


Washington, D.C.





New Jersey




The Rodel Foundation of Delaware continued its role as critical friend with the state Department of Education and policymakers. Their vice president of policy and practice was appointed to the ESSA Advisory Committee, which provided feedback throughout the plan’s development. Rodel also worked with a large coalition that submitted three public comment letters focused on issues of transparent reporting, accountability, equity, and low-performing schools.

The coalition’s work paid off. The department adopted their recommendations to incorporate growth to proficiency and chronic absenteeism in their accountability system. They also reduced the n-size for accountability from 30 to 15, another coalition recommendation.

While many of their recommendations were incorporated, several areas of concern were not addressed, including long-term goals for student performance that allow achievement gaps to persist and appear disconnected from school- and district-level accountability.

Recommendations to other states

For other advocates engaging in ESSA work, Rodel recommends, “Educate non-insiders about the technicalities and why they matter—through conversations with experts, like EdTrust, and by writing clear explanations and questions they can use.”

Next steps

Rodel will stay involved in the state’s planning, especially as the Department is holding meetings to determine some of the specifics not already included in the plan.



DC School Reform Now (DCSRN) provided testimony on school ratings to the State Board of Education and provided support to other organizations as they formulated their own positions.

To DCSRN, the biggest win is common accountability between traditional public and public charter schools, allowing for “apples-to-apples” comparisons across the board. Previously, the groups had separate school rating systems, using differing metrics and scoring guidelines.

DFER District of Columbia, which served as a quarterback for D.C.’s ESSA implementation coalition, also offered strong public support of the SEA’s plan to make at least 70% of a school’s rating tied to academic outcomes, ensuring that even when faced with opposition, the SEA was able to stand firm. Additionally, DFER D.C. was pleased the plan incorporated meaningful school climate outcomes (such as absenteeism, graduation rates, and re-enrollment) rather than inputs or unproven measures.

Recommendations to other states

DCSRN cautions other state advocates not to focus on school inputs as part of accountability, but instead focus on student outcomes, as their grades and test scores have very real repercussions on their futures. They put it simply: “Remember that though intent is good, results matter.”

DFER D.C. advises advocates to work closely with national organizations such as Ed Trust, La Raza, Leadership Conference, Urban League, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as they can help make connections with effective and influential local advocates. DFER D.C. also added that it helps to be part of a civil rights coalition, not just education reform, if working in a blue or purple state.

Next Steps

Because of the nature of DCSRN’s work, the organization will not contribute directly to implementation, but will rather utilize the new rating system to support parents as they identify and apply to schools. Explaining school quality to families has been a challenge, but the new rating system makes accessing quality more straight-forward.

In their future work, DFER D.C. will be keeping an eye on the development of the state report card, which is more of a descriptive and holistic “dashboard” that includes some non-academic measures, such as safety, discipline, and curricular offerings.



In Illinois, Educators for Excellence-Chicago reviewed iterations of the plan with groups of teachers and encouraged them to offer their own recommendations by testifying and submitting written comments. As an organization, they created proposals for how to use Title I and Title II funds. Advance Illinois hosted an ESSA-focused Legislator Forum the day before the State Board vote on Illinois’ plan, attracting twenty-seven state legislators and several State Board members. Stand for Children Illinois selected eight parents to serve as ESSA Policy Fellows to inform their recommendations. They also organized hundreds of parents to send letters to State Board members and encouraged several parents to testify at a state education board meeting.

E4E-Chicago says they are excited about the plan’s final decision for n-size, the emphasis on school climate and culture, and the focus on non-academic measures. Stand for Children Illinois supported the state’s decision to weight growth over proficiency and the substantial inclusion of subgroups at all levels of the accountability system. They also applaud the state’s decision to use straight-forward, parent-friendly school ratings, which will help parents better understand how their school is serving students. Advance Illinois called for reporting the progress of high-need subgroups of students, adding, “It should be clear if students in these groups are or are not making progress.”

While many of their priorities did make it into the plan, E4E-Chicago was disappointed in how the plan addressed issues surrounding equitable teacher disbursement and increased opportunities for teacher leadership. Additionally, Stand for Children Illinois believes “there is still much work to be done around interventions and supports.  We will continue to work with our partners to influence the process as the state begins building IL-EMPOWER, our new clearinghouse of supports.”

Recommendations to other states

E4E-Chicago advises, “We would encourage state advocates to ensure that states are adequately engaging teachers and providing opportunities for teacher voice to be incorporated into ESSA plans.”

Stand for Children Illinois says, “We read several other states’ draft plans to glean different approaches and learn some of the pitfalls that other states had fallen into, such as setting a student’s performance levels to his or her subgroup rather than to all students; thereby setting different, and in many cases, lower, expectations for subgroups.”

Next steps

E4E-Chicago reports they will continue engaging teachers in implementation of key areas such as teacher disbursement, school climate and culture, teacher diversity, teacher leadership, and teacher professional development.

Stand for Children Illinois will continue working with existing education workgroups to finalize a needs assessment which must be completed by all LEAs prior to receiving supports. They’re also designing a suite of parent-friendly communications tools they’re happy to share with PIE Network colleagues.

Advance Illinois’ noted, “It will take us all working together to deliver on the promise of ESSA and remain involved statewide and locally so that the system is fair to students, clear to parents and teachers, and supportive of schools.”



DFER Louisiana and Stand for Children Louisiana were part of a large, diverse coalition brought together by The Education Trust that met monthly with the Louisiana State Superintendent to provide feedback on the plan. They negotiated on a variety of policy issues, including the curve on accountability, what the report card would like look, parent engagement, and subgroup reporting.

DFER Louisiana notes, “While a contentious issue, the subgroup reporting is really exciting progress for accountability because it digs into where we may need to intervene in schools.” Other big wins include ensuring a school could not be rated an A if they are failing a specific subgroup and the eventual elimination of the school grade curve. Stand for Children Louisiana pushed to cap growth at 25 percent of a school’s letter grade, noting, “a heavy reliance on growth could result in vastly skewed and volatile results year after year. While growth is extremely important, especially for those students who are struggling to perform on grade level, it is vitally important to know if a child is graduating with the skills and knowledge that he or she needs to succeed in college or career training.”

Recommendations to other states

DFER Louisiana advises, “It is critical to have a diverse coalition. And while it’s important to put your stake in the ground as an organization, it’s important to make sure your partners understand and know in advance when you are going to make strong public statements about the work.” Stand for Children Louisiana agrees with the value of diverse coalitions, adding, “If you don’t have civil rights organizations, disability rights advocates, and others at the table to discuss a meaningful plan, then are you really representing the needs of the students in your state?”

Next steps

Stand for Children Louisiana anticipates some defensive work protecting the plan as districts begin implementation. They’re also developing an awareness campaign so parents and guardians will be prepared for the changes in school scores.



The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE) notes that their state’s ESSA plan “Exhibits a thoughtful and evidence-based approach to school improvement,” and also provides more transparency about performance. While enthusiastic about the overall approach, MBAE cautions that there are still unanswered questions about the weight and definition of the indicators. As the business voice for education in Massachusetts, MBAE adds, “We are disappointed that a career ready measure was not included, since there are many emerging tools for assessing that readiness.”

Recommendations to other states

MBAE advises other states to remember that the goal of ESSA is not just to support low-performing schools, but also to identify best practices at high-performing schools that can be replicated.



The Education Trust-Midwest has followed Michigan’s roller-coaster approach to ESSA plan development. Initially, the state released a draft plan that included much stronger accountability for schools than the state had previously. Buoyed by the progress there and the state’s initial plan to include a simple school rating system, Ed Trust-Midwest crafted a report responding to key provisions of the plan. However, just as public comment was ending, some policymakers in Michigan had second thoughts. By the time the draft was revised and sent to Washington, D.C., many of the accountability pieces were weakened.

After such a strong start, the lost accountability is especially hard to accept. EdTrust-Midwest concludes, “Rather than providing parents with a clear and meaningful understanding of local school quality – as proposed through a single rating of school quality in the February draft plan – the Michigan Department of Education proposes to duck accountability and punt decision making authority to the state legislature and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Once again, Michigan is prioritizing the interests of adults, rather than the needs of students, in our state education system.”



JerseyCAN was a part of the NJ Department of Education’s stakeholder engagement group that brought many different voices to the table. Although not all of JerseyCAN’s policy recommendations are reflected in the plan, some made the cut.  For instance, the department recommended the heaviest weight in the accountability system should be tied to performance on the statewide PARCC assessment, but after taking a real-time survey with stakeholders, the state followed the majority feedback of the stakeholder group who believed student growth should be weighted the heaviest.

Overall, JerseyCAN is supportive of chronic absenteeism as an indicator and notes that New Jersey is one of the only states to use the same single metric across all grades. However, they also hoped that college and career readiness would be included as a school quality measure.

While some of this information is already captured by NJ School Performance Reports, JerseyCAN recommended a concerted effort to improve students’ remediation rates, as 70 percent of first-year students attending a community college and 32 percent of first-year students attending a four-year college or university in NJ require remedial coursework.

Recommendations to other states

JerseyCAN says, “Do your research! ESSA is such a broad law and sometimes feels unwieldy. Continue to stay on the cutting edge of ESSA research and commentary before going into stakeholder meetings. You can be a resource to state staff working on the plan, and it also allows you to have richer conversations with other advocates.”

Next Steps

JerseyCAN will continue to serve on the NJ DOE’s Accountability Working Group and is eager to provide input on the redesign of NJ’s School Performance Reports.



SCORE concludes that Tennessee’s new school accountability structure provides greater transparency about achievement gaps and greater impetus for schools to move to close them, including the effort to provide schools with more growth data about English Learners. SCORE notes, “While it would be better if more schools could receive achievement data for each subgroup, rather than just a super subgroup, the Tennessee plan does advance the ‘all means all’ promise.” Other strengths of the Tennessee plan are a more collaborative approach to school improvement, an emphasis on early postsecondary opportunities, and an accountability measure called “chronically out of school” that includes out-of-school suspensions. 

Recommendations to other states

Foster input from diverse perspectives. Several existing state groups banded together as the Tennessee Education Equity Coalition, and SCORE worked with them in an advisory role. The Equity Coalition’s leadership in advocating for the needs of students of color and English Learners improved Tennessee’s ESSA plan.

Next steps

SCORE is creating a set of six fact sheets to inform educators, advocates, and community leaders about some of the biggest changes the plan brings to schools and districts. They also are creating an implementation monitoring process that will scan for and share best practices on reducing the number of students chronically out of school and increasing rigorous and meaningful early postsecondary options for all students.


    Laura Mann

    Laura was previously PIE Network's Senior Director, Communications, Standards, and Accountability

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