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Every Student Succeeds Act

Inside ESSA Plans: How Could Your School Be Graded?

By Andrew Ujifusa — September 26, 2017 3 min read

It’s one of the most controversial questions about the Every Student Succeeds Act and accountability in general: How should schools be graded?

Since nearly all states have at least turned in their ESSA plans, and many ESSA plans have been approved, we now have a good idea of how states are answering those questions. Keep one thing in mind: ESSA requires certain low-performing schools to be identified as needing either targeted or comprehensive support. States have no wiggle room on that. But beyond that, states can assign things like A-F grades, stars, or points. Based on the states that have turned in their plans—and remember, not every state has—We did some good old-fashioned counting and came to the following conclusions, in chart form:

Here are a few notes about that chart.

1) Many states use some kind of points system only as a starting point, since they then use those systems to arrive at final grades or scores that are presented differently to the public.

For example, Indiana and Mississippi, are using a points-based system to arrive at A-F letter grades. However, because those grades will be presented to the public in that more-digestible option for understanding a school’s performance, we put those two states in the A-F category.

2) Meanwhile, other states aren’t doing this kind of transubstantiation and appear to be presenting those point scores to the public.

3) Michigan presented two different options for school ratings, so the state doesn’t present a clear preference yet and its plan hasn’t been approved yet. But because both are based on A-F grades, we put the state in that corresponding category.

Read on for more information about how states are trying to handle the thorny topic of school rating systems.

California, Idaho, Oregon, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Virginia appear not to want to assign final grades to schools in their plans, beyond those two mandatory ESSA categories. Essentially, these states want to use some kind of a “dashboard” model for accountability that reports how a school is doing when it comes to individual factors like test scores and academic growth, but doesn’t roll all those factors into one final score. (Virginia’s separate state-based accreditation system does require schools to be rated.)

California has probably gotten the most attention for its accountability plan, which relies on a color-coded system to grade schools on six different indicators, from academic performance to suspension rates. It would also have two separate reports, one on equity and one on “status changes.” Below is a snapshot of how it would look, via the state education department.

As for those 44 states that require final school scores of some kind? Keep in mind that some states’ laws require their education departments to assign schools summative grades of some kind, regardless of what ESSA requires.

Some states want to use final grades and a “dashboard” approach to accountability. In other words, they want to present final school ratings, but also report ratings for individual indicators like academic achievement and attendance to the public. That latter approach is called a “dashboard” system in the world of ESSA nerds.

States that want to take this approach include Arkansas, Kentucky, and New York.

Those states labeled as “Other”? They’re Minnesota and Vermont. The Green Mountain State, whose ESSA plan has been approved by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, will use a summative rating. But it will be a visual one based on bull’s-eyes. Here’s what that looks like:

As for Minnesota: They’ve identified different categories of schools that will be used. But they haven’t nailed down what exactly those categories will be, in terms of letter grades, stars, or text-based descriptions. In the plan, they’re listed as Category A, Category B, and so on. Minnesota, it should be noted, also wants to use a dashboard accountability system at some point down the road.

We’ll update this post as the few states that haven’t yet submitted their ESSA plans do so. If you think we missed something about any state’s plan, let us know.


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