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Every Student Succeeds Act

Which School Quality Factors Are States Including in Their ESSA Plans?

By Alyson Klein — April 06, 2017 3 min read
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One of the parts of the Every Student Succeeds Act that excited educators the most was the chance to look beyond test scores in gauging school performance, to factors like absenteeism, access to advanced coursework, and even grit.

So what kinds of factors are states using? We looked at the handful of plans that states have submitted to the feds and shared with us.

There are some common themes, at least among this first batch. For instance, chronic absenteeism is super popular. In fact, six states—Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico Tennessee are all using chronic absenteeism or attendance in some fashion. (We will be updating this post periodically as more plans come in.)

Another favorite is college and career readiness, although states are defining that in an array of ways, everything from success on college entrance exams to career certification. At least three states are also looking at whether 9th graders are on track to graduate.

Not on the list of indicators states are looking at so far? Social and emotional factors, such as grit or growth mindset. A few districts in California used those factors in their systems under the No Child Left Behind Act, ESSA’s predecessor. But experts in those topics say that such factors aren’t great to use for accountability purposes. And it sounds like, at least so far, states agree.

And states differed in the number of outside factors they picked. Connecticut, for example, has nine indicators beyond the test scores and graduation rates required under ESSA. New Jersey has just one (chronic absenteeism).

The indicator of student success or school quality (known as the “fifth indicator”) can’t count for more than all of the academic indicators (test-scores, English-language proficiency, graduation rates, and other academic factors) combined. States went in all different directions on this. In New Jersey, the sole school quality indicator—chronic absenteeism—is just 10 percent of the state’s overall score. But in Connecticut, school quality indicators make up about 35 percent of a school’s rating.

Here’s a breakdown of the list of school quality indicators states choose:

Connecticut - Total of 12 indicators, both academic and school quality. The state is considering academic growth and proficiency as two of its academic indicators.

  • Chronic absenteeism
  • Preparation for college and career ready coursework (taking AP/IB classes), or two CTE courses, or two “workforce experience” courses
  • 9th grader on track graduation
  • Six-year cohort graduation rate. (This indicator is in addition to the four-year cohort graduation rate required by ESSA.)
  • Participation rate on tests (for schools where fewer than 95 percent of students are tested.)
  • Postsecondary enrollment
  • Physical fitness
  • Access to arts education

Delaware - School quality indicators make up a total of 20 percent of a school’s overall rating

  • Chronic absenteeism
  • College and career preparedness (including things like SAT and ACT scores and career certification)

District of Columbia

  • Chronic absenteeism
  • A mix of attendance indicators
  • “Re-enrollment” (meaning whether or not kids choose to come back to a particular school the next year. This indicator is explained in light of the District of Columbia’s robust public school program.)
  • Standardized observations that take into account a mix of factors, including classroom organization, emotional support, and instructional support

Illinois - School quality indicators make up 25 percent of a school’s overall rating

  • Chronic absenteeism
  • Climate surveys
  • Whether 9th graders are on track to graduate
  • An early-childhood education indicator


  • Percentage of students who have consistent attendance

Massachusetts - Weights for each indicator are yet to be determined.

  • Chronic absenteeism
  • Success in 9th grade courses
  • Successful completion of a broad and challenging high school curriculum (that includes things like AP and IB course-taking)

New Jersey - Weighted at 10 percent

  • Chronic absenteeism

New Mexico

  • Attendance measures
  • Opportunity to learn surveys that capture school climate, student engagement and more
  • College and career readiness, including remediation and persistence


  • Student engagement (for all of K-12, as measured by attendance)
  • College and career readiness (for high schools, as measured by ACT scores)
  • Closing achievement gaps (for elementary and middle schools)


  • Chronic absenteeism and out-of-school suspensions
  • Graduation rate indicator incorporates whether students have met ACT benchmarks or earned military or workforce certification


  • College and career readiness, according to a summary.
  • Physical fitness
  • Science
  • Post-secondary outcomes

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