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Every Student Succeeds Act

Fact Check: Does ESSA Really Require ‘Non-Academic’ Accountability Measures?

By Andrew Ujifusa — March 21, 2016 2 min read
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If you’re inhaling everything you can read and watch about the Every Student Succeeds Act, you may have read in some places that the new federal education law requires states to include “nonacademic” indicators in their revamped accountability systems.

But is that true? Let’s try to figure it out.

Under ESSA, state accountability plans have to include four academic indicators. All schools must count proficiency on math and English/language arts test and English-language proficiency. High schools must also count their graduation rates. And elementary and middle schools must use one other academic indicator, which could be student growth on state exams.

And then there’s the other, different type of indicator states have to use in accountability. States’ options for this indicator include, but are not limited to:

  • student engagement;
  • educator engagement;
  • access to and completion of advanced coursework;
  • postsecondary readiness;
  • school climate and safety.

It would be up to each state to decide which of those listed indicators makes the most sense for that “other” indicator. (However, ESSA does require the academic indicators as a whole to count for “much” more in accountability systems than the other type of indicator.) The general idea is that through this revamped accountability template, school leaders, policymakers, and others have a chance to broaden what it means to be a successful school.

So, are those indicators listed above in bullet points really “non-academic” indicators? You could have a debate about some of them, but certainly “access to and completion of advance coursework” directly relates to students’ academic opportunities and, ultimately, their academic success. And “postsecondary readiness,” depending on how you define it, could also easily include academic indicators, such as AP test scores or success in dual-enrollment courses.

We’ve been calling this indicator a requirement for states to measure “school quality.” That’s because the possible metrics for that “other” indicator cover both academic and non-academic areas. Groups ranging from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute to the American Federation of Teachers have been referring to this fifth indicator as one measuring “school quality” or “student success.”

A few of the possible “school quality” indicators listed above can also be found in the National Education Association’s “Opportunity Dashboard” that the union prioritized as it pushed for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.