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Every Student Succeeds Act

What Are the Long-Term Academic Goals in States’ ESSA Plans?

By Andrew Ujifusa — April 10, 2017 13 min read
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We’re not in NCLB land any more, Toto.

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act—which replaced the previous version of the nation’s main K-12 law—states have a lot of leeway in deciding what their long-term academic goals will be. That means that, unlike with the No Child Left Behind Act, there’s no requirement that all states ensure that 100 percent of students are proficient on state English/language arts and math exams by a certain school year. In the ESSA plans submitted to the U.S. Department of Education that we’ve seen so far, states have laid out a variety of long-term as well as interim goals, and a vastly different set of timelines with key dates ranging from next year all the way to 2039.

Read on to see what some of these long-term goals are in eight states and the District of Columbia. We’ve included some information about goals for graduation rates as well, but we’ve put aside English-language proficiency goals for now. Want to jump to a particular state or the District of Columbia? Just click on one of the links below:

One important note about Massachusetts: The state did not set out any academic goals in its ESSA plan. Read on or click on Massachusetts above for more info about that.

Need a refresher about ESSA? Click here for our explainer. And check out a video version of our ESSA explainer here:

Connecticut: In order not to “overemphasize proficiency,” Connecticut plans to lay out student-growth targets on the Smarter Balanced exam in grades 4-8, as well as for several subgroups of students, with all of the final long-term goals set for the 2029-30 school year and three interim targets along the way. The long-term goal by that year is that 100 percent of all students and all subgroups of students will hit those growth targets.

The 2016-17 school year’s scores, which aren’t available yet, will set the baseline, and both interim and long-term goals will be set using those scores. This 13-year time frame aligns with the amount of time it takes one cohort of students to move through the K-12 system. There would be growth targets for economically disadvantaged students, as well as for different racial groups, those who are economically disadvantaged, and students with disabilities. Connecticut’s growth model also expects more-dramatic improvement sooner from groups with lower growth rates. (More on Connecticut’s growth model here.)

The Nutmeg State included a chart to show the expected trajectory of student growth, although the chart doesn’t show the actual baseline scores.

However, it’s worth noting that ESSA appears to say states must have a long-term goal that measures proficiency on state exams, which Connecticut doesn’t appear to do. In addition, Connecticut’s plan also doesn’t appear to use any high school tests as part of its long-term academic goals, which ESSA also requires. (Connecticut doesn’t administer Smarter Balanced in high school.)

We asked Connecticut about those two issues. Department spokeswoman Abbe Smith responded the state is using “growth as a means to proficiency,” and pointed to the part of the plan that states, “Students will increase their proficiency on the annual state assessment if they evidence growth on those assessments toward higher levels of achievement from one year to the next.” Proficiency is also included in the state’s proposed 12-indicator accountability system. As for the high school test, Smith pointed to two indicators in that 12-indicator system that cover SAT, Advanced Placement, and other exams. Those tests are not explicitly mentioned in the long-term goals section of Connecticut’s plan, however.

On graduation rates, the state wants a 94 percent adjusted four-year cohort graduation rate for all students, and all subgroups of students—there are interim targets for the state as well. In 2014-15, the graduation rate in Connecticut was 87.2 percent.

Delaware: Drawing on its waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act, the state wants to shoot for cutting the share of students currently not proficient on English/language arts and math exams in half by 2030. This would apply to all students in grades 3-8 and 11th grade. There would also be long-term goals for nine other student subgroups, including race-based groups, English-learners, and students with disabilities. The 2015-16 scores would serve as the baseline.

For grades 3-8, the exam used to measure progress would be Smarter Balanced, and for 11th grade, the exam would be the SAT. The College Board, which develops the SAT, doesn’t set a “proficiency” level for the exam, but states can decide on their own what counts as proficient. Here’s a sample of how 5th grade goals would look, as measured by proficiency rates:

Delaware takes a similar approach with graduation rates, where it wants to cut the share of students not graduating in half by 2030 using the adjusted four-year, five-year, and six-year cohort rates.

District of Columbia: By 2038-39, D.C. wants 85 percent of all students and all subgroups of students to “demonstrate college and career readiness on its statewide standardized achievement assessments.” (The vast majority, if not all, of students who will be in the D.C. school system in 2038-39 aren’t yet alive.) That means scoring at least at level 4 on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) exam, and at least at level 3 on D.C.'s alternative exam, the Multi-State Alternate Assessment. Scoring at levels 4 or 5 on PARCC and levels 3 and 4 on the MSAA, the District says, indicates that students are on track to succeed at the next level, and at the first year of postsecondary education.

As a “key milestone,” the District also wants all groups of students to improve and for achievement gaps between groups to be cut in half over the next 10 years on PARCC and MSAA. PARCC is given to students in grades 3-8 in D.C. schools.

The District also wants 90 percent of all students and all student subgroups to graduate by 2038-39, as measured by the four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate.

Illinois: Here are the long-term goals for the Land of Lincoln in their basic form, in 2032:

  • 90 percent or more of 3rd-grade students will be reading at or above grade level, including all subgroups of students, such as race-based student groups and economically disadvantaged students. This will be measured by the PARCC exam.
  • 90 percent or more of 5th-grade students will meet or exceed expectations in mathematics, including all subgroups of students such as race-based student groups and economically disadvantaged students. This will be measured by the PARCC exam.
  • 90 percent or more of 9th-grade students will be on track to graduate with their cohort. This is defined as “having at least 10 semester credits (five full-year course credits) and no more than one semester F in a core course by the end of their first year in high school,” according to Illinois education department spokeswoman Megan Griffin.
  • 90 percent or more of students will graduate from high school ready for college and career. This will be determined using a combination of GPA, attendance rate, and either satisfying academic and career-ready indicators, or getting a “college and career pathway endorsement.” (More on the latter here.)

In addition, there’s a goal for 90 percent of all students and all student subgroups to be proficient in reading/language arts and math by 2032. The baseline for students in K-8 and high school will be set using a composite average of data from three years of test score data. Those baselines will be set in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

There would also be three interim goals measuring progress before the final 2032 goals.

As for graduation rates, Illinois wants 90 percent of all students and all student subgroups to graduate by 2032, using the four-year, five-year, and six-year adjusted cohort graduation rates.

Louisiana: The state wants to set an annual average improvement target of 2.5 percentage point gains in achievement on state reading and math tests between 2018 and 2025 for all students and student subgroups. Plan includes goal of reaching a graduation rate of 90 percent by 2025 for all students and student subgroups.

Maine: Maine wants 90 percent of its students to gradate “college and career ready” by 2030. However, it does not lay out new long-term reading and math goals, because it says it needs a new baseline for the relevant state exams.

Massachusetts: As we mentioned above, the state doesn’t lay out long-term academic goals in its plan. The Bay State says this is because of a new exam it’s giving in 2016-17. “Because baseline data from the new assessments will not be available until the summer of 2017, it is not possible for Massachusetts to determine long-term goals for the state at this time,” the plan states. (Other states, it’s worth noting, do set goals despite not having those baseline scores yet.)

As for its graduation rate goals? The state notes that since 2010, it has improved its four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate by 5 percentage points and cut the gap between the graduation rate for all students and a 100 percent graduation rate for all students by 29 percent. It wants to repeat this statistical progress by 2020. Here’s what that would look like using the four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate:

Massachusetts also has a range of graduation rate targets for its five-year adjusted cohort rate.

Michigan: The state proposes that 75 percent of schools and 75 percent of all student subgroups reach various proficiency targets on state exams in English/language arts, math, science, and other subjects by 2024-25.

Nevada: The state sets out long-term academic goals for 2022 for grades 3-8 and 10, but only for all students and not for student subgroups.

For all students, the baseline is the 48 percent of students who were proficient in reading/language arts in 2016, and the 34 percent of students who were proficient in math in 2016. The state’s goal is to have 61 percent percent of students proficient in reading/language arts by 2022, and 41 percent of students proficient in math by 2022. The state says goals for various student subgroups, including economically-disadvantaged students and race-based groups, will be set using baselines “coming in March 2017.” For grades 3-8 the state will use Smarter Balanced exams, and for grade 10, the state will use end-of-course exams.

Nevada’s plan says the state “is committed to be the fastest-growing state in the nation in student achievement.”

The state wants its graduation rate for all students to grow from 73.6 percent in 2016 to 84 percent in 2022 using the four-year adjusted cohort rate, but it doesn’t yet lay out graduation rate goals for other subgroups. Nevada has indicated it wants to include the five-year rate as well in its “goals” section, but doesn’t set out goals for that in its plan.

New Jersey: “By 2030, at least 80 percent of all students and at least 80 percent of each subgroup of students in each tested grade will meet or exceed grade-level expectations on the statewide English/language arts (ELA) and mathematics assessments,” New Jersey’s plan states.

These grade-level expectations will be based on the PARCC exams—meeting or exceeding grade-level expectations means scoring at level 4 or 5 on PARCC.

In addition, by 2030, the state has these two goals:

  • The state wants all students to score at level 3 (meaning they are “approaching” grade-level expectations), 4 or 5 on PARCC.
  • New Jersey also wants 20 percent of all students and of all student subgroups to exceed expectations on PARCC, meaning that they score on level 5.

The state chose 2030 because it’s the year students entering kindergarten in 2017-18, the year ESSA kicks in, are set to graduate from high school. Here are the baseline scores for all students and student subgroups using 2016 PARCC scores:

By 2030, New Jersey also wants 95 percent of all students and each subgroup of students to graduate within four years of entering 9th grade, and for 96 percent of all students and each subgroup to graduate within five years. In 2015-16, the four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate in New Jersey was 90.06 percent.

New Mexico: Like Nevada, New Mexico wants to be the “fastest growing state in the nation when it comes to student outcomes.” Under its ESSA plan, the state wants 64.9 percent of all students scoring proficient on the PARCC English/language arts exam, and 61.2 percent of all students proficient on the PARCC math exam, by 2022.

There are also separate targets for that year for various student subgroups. For economically disadvantaged students, for example, the goals are 59.8 percent proficient and 56.8 percent proficient, respectively.

Tennessee: The Volunteer State laid out four long-term “Tennessee Succeeds” academic goals:

  • The state wants to rank in the top half of 4th and 8th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math, reading, and science exams by by 2019. There’s also an interim goal in 2017 for the the 8th graders to rank at least 31st in 8th grade math, 27th in 4th grade reading, and 28th in 8th grade reading. For perspective, here’s where Tennessee ranked on NAEP exams in 2015:

(Click here for more on the use of NAEP scores by states and others.) Tennessee also used NAEP scores in its Race to the Top application.

  • By 2025, the state wants 75 percent of 3rd graders to be proficient in reading. In 2015, the state had 43 percent of 3rd graders proficient, but the state wants to use new 2016-17 scores as a baseline for meeting the 75 percent goal.
  • The state wants the average ACT composite score to reach 21 by 2020. The 2015 average composite score was 19.4. The interim targets for composite scores are 19.7 in 2016, 20 in 2017, 20.3 in 2018, and 20.6 in 2019.
  • Tennessee wants a majority of its high school graduates from its class of 2020 to earn a postsecondary certificate, degree, or diploma. Among spring 2015 graduates, 62 percent matriculated into a postsecondary institution in the fall of 2015, the state notes. And as of the fall of 2015, 24 percent of the class of 2008 had earned a postsecondary credential within six years. There are also interim goals, including a year-over-year increase of 5 percentage points of students matriculating into postsecondary, up to 77 percent of students doing so in 2018.

In addition, the state wants to cut in half the share of all students, and for each subgroup, not scoring at the “on track” or “mastered” levels on the state’s annual exams in math, reading, and science. Here’s what that looks like in math, for example:

From 2015-16 to 2024-25, Tennessee also wants the graduation rate to rise from 88.5 percent to 95 percent.

Vermont: It’s a little complicated to explain Vermont’s long-term goal, but here’s one description using a hypothetical: Let’s say that in order to score proficient on a test using a scale score of 400, a student must score between 250 to 350. Therefore, the midpoint of the range of scores considered proficient is 300.

Vermont wants all schools to have an average scale score that’s at least at the midpoint of the proficiency range, which in our hypothetical case is at least an average score of 300, by 2025 for grades 3-9 on the English/language arts and math Smarter Balanced exams.

Remember, the scale score and score ranges we used to illustrate Vermont’s long-term academic goal are hypotheticals only, and don’t actually reflect those in Smarter Balanced.

Local districts will also have to report interim score targets based on their own data.

Vermont also wants all of its schools to have a four-year graduation rate of 90 percent for all students and all subgroups of students.