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How Are States Tracking College and Career Readiness Under ESSA?

By Alyson Klein — October 28, 2018 5 min read
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Welcome to another installment of “Answering Your ESSA Questions,” where we try to demystify the Every Student Succeeds Act in its first year of implementation. This one comes from Alex Sabin, a graduate student at Harvard University.

Question: An ESSA accountability system can include a school success “measure” outside of test scores such as college-and-career readiness. However, what exactly does college and career readiness look like? A large portion of students are entering into college and must take the noncredit-bearing “refresher” courses, which indicate their lack of college preparation. Additionally, college retention rates are still lower than many would like. Are these components of how college and career readiness is viewed in the accountability systems? Or what does that metric include?

Answer: The short version is that nearly every state is measuring college and career readiness in some way. Even though there are some common elements (like Advanced Placement test scores, industry certification, workplace experience), the details look different everywhere. But only a small handful are looking at postsecondary enrollment. And most don’t consider whether students need to take remedial coursework once they get to college.

For more detail, we reached out to Ryan Reyna, the director of the Education Strategy Group, an organization that works with states on K-12 and postsecondary transitions.

More than 40 states are considering postsecondary and career readiness in school performance in some way in their ESSA plans, Reyna said. But they take different paths to including it, according to a forthcoming analysis by Education Strategy Group, in collaboration with Advance CTE and Achieve.

Thirty-five states are using ESSA to reward schools whose students are taking some sort of college-and-career coursework, according to Reyna’s analysis. Twenty-five of those states are considering dual enrollment. Delaware is considering dual enrollment in both academic and career and technical programs. And Maryland is looking at access to a well-rounded curriculum, which can be met through dual enrollment or by taking courses that align with the entrance requirements for the University of Maryland system.

Thirteen states are including some sort of measure of work-based learning or leadership experience in their ESSA plans. For instance, Georgia and South Carolina are considering how experiences like internships and pre-apprenticeships match up with a students’ academic and career path. And they want feedback from the students’ work-based supervisors on whether the experience was meaningful, Reyna said.

Thirty-four states are using test scores to demonstrate college and career readiness under ESSA in some way, whether that’s Advanced Placement tests, International Baccalaureate exams, the SAT, and ACT, or industry certifications, which are based on tests, according to the analysis.

And a handful of states—Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Texas, and Vermont—are considering the transition beyond high school in their ESSA plans. Georgia is tracking whether students enroll in postsecondary education and whether or not they need remediation when they get there. Connecticut, Michigan, and Vermont are also looking at postsecondary enrollment.

Importantly, a handful of states are considering these sorts of factors for state accountability, but not for their ESSA plans, Reyna said.

The diversity in states’ approaches to college and career readiness is a good thing, Reyna said.

“I think the real challenge is in making sure all this information is appropriately reported” and broken out by subgroups, including English-language learners, students in special education, economically-disadvantaged students, and racial minorities, Reyna said.

He’s hoping states won’t just mesh all their data into a single number for college and career readiness, but will break it out, looking at how many students are meeting the definition through industry certification as opposed to Advanced Placement, and how that differs by demographic group.

“That’s really where the rub hits,” Reyna said. “The transparent reporting is literally where true conversations about access and equity happen. I would say in general state leadership is moving in the direction of really trying to make more meaningful supports available and access available for traditionally underserved groups. But that can really only be done if you have the appropriate data to determine where students are not being successful in making these demonstrations of readiness.”

Want more? Reyna pointed us to several reports by his organization that explore this issue in more detail.

Destination Known: A report from the Education Strategy Group, Advance CTE and the Council of Chief State School Officers that outlines their recommendations for state college and career readiness systems.

Credential Currency: Makes recommendations for how states can ensure they are identifying high-quality industry-recognized credentials, now that many more states are making them part of their accountability systems.

Mapping Career Readiness in State ESSA Plans: Catalogs which states included career-readiness measures in their submitted (not approved) ESSA plans.

Shining a Spotlight on K-12 and Higher Education Alignment: A look at how states are aligning K-12 and higher education policy in their submitted ESSA plans.

An Education Week analysis broke out some of the factors states are using to gauge school performance in their ESSA plans. You can see our state-by-state breakdown here.

Got an ESSA question? Email us at or Or tweet at us @PoliticsK12.

Want to see what other readers are wondering? Here are links to past installments of this feature:

How Does School Climate Figure Into State ESSA Plans?

How Does Science Testing Work Under ESSA?

How Do State ESSA Plans Handle Mental Health?

What’s New for Children in Foster Care Under ESSA?

What’s the Toughest Part of ESSA For District Leaders?

How Does Funding For ESSA’s Testing Requirements Work?

Does ESSA Require Teachers to Be Highly Qualified?

Can Districts Use ESSA Funds to Buy Crossing Guard Signs?

How Are States Handling Testing Opt-Outs Under ESSA?

Can Districts Use the SAT or ACT for School Accountability Without State OK?

Which States Are Eschewing School Grades?

How Can Districts and States Use ESSA to Bolster STEM and Computer Science?

What’s Going on With Testing Audits?

What’s Up With ESSA Block Grant Funding?

Is Testing the Only Way a Student Can Achieve Success Under ESSA?

Want to learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act? Here’s some useful information: