Since President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December, much discussion has centered on changes related to school accountability. Under the new law, a state’s accountability plan must include long-term goals, measures of progress toward those goals, and an explanation of how the state plans to differentiate schools. This revised system would replace the accountability plans that states developed under their still-operational NCLB waivers, and it would take effect during the 2017–18 school year. ESSA’s accountability requirements also involve the dissemination of annual report cards for the state, districts, and schools that contain a variety of accountability indicators and a plethora of data.
NCLB also required school report cards, so the idea itself is nothing new. What’s changed is what the report cards contain. For instance, NCLB required states to include information on state assessment results, the percentage of students not tested, graduation rates, and performance on adequate yearly progress measures. ESSA moves away from adequate yearly progress while mandating four types of indicators: achievement, another academic measure (probably growth for elementary and middle schools and graduation rates for high schools), progress for English language learners, and “other indicators of school quality and student success.”
Furthermore, ESSA calls for a tremendous amount of new data to be reported on these report cards. For example, NCLB already required states to disaggregate achievement data according to race and ethnicity, gender, English language proficiency, migrant status, disability status, and low-income status. ESSA adds homeless students, foster care students, and children of active duty military personnel to this list of subgroups. ESSA also requires states to include the following data in their report cards (for information purposes only, not as an element used in formal accountability): disaggregated results that are already reported to Civil Rights Data Collection, including exclusionary discipline rates and chronic absenteeism; the professional qualifications of educators (which were already required by NCLB); federal, state, and local per-pupil expenditures; the number and percentage of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities taking alternate assessments, by grade and subject; where available, disaggregated rates of students who graduate from high school and enroll in higher education; and, at the state level only, results of NAEP compared to the national average.
This laundry list of required data reporting makes it clear that while ESSA may have reduced the number of mandates for states, it greatly increased the number of things they must report on. Even for states like Ohio, which already has a robust state accountability and report card system, meeting ESSA’s report card mandate will likely take more work than their current systems—though perhaps necessary work, since the data will shine a light on long-darkened areas (like school funding).
In general, the report card system Ohio established to comply with NCLB is already on the right path toward fulfilling ESSA statute. Ohio’s report cards currently include indicators that report on student achievement, student progress, gap closing, graduation rates, K–3 literacy, student preparation for college and career, and gifted student performance. Much (but not all) of the data ESSA requires to be reported already is, and since the system complies with NCLB’s disaggregation mandates, Ohio already disaggregates for the majority of ESSA’s required subgroups (but will need to add additional ones).
So what changes will Buckeye policy makers need to make—or seize the opportunity to make—in order to fully comply with the new federal law and its accompanying regulations? Though the chart below is not comprehensive, it offers a glance at some of ESSA’s major requirements for report cards compared to Ohio’s current system. The shaded areas are issues where Ohio appears to have the most work to do as it revises its accountability plan.
ESSA requirement for state report card
Ohio’s current report card equivalent
Next steps for Ohio
Information on student achievement on the state’s chosen academic assessments for all students, disaggregated by subgroup.
-The Achievement indicator, which includes Indicators Met (how many students have met the state’s minimum proficiency level) and Performance Index (the achievement level of each student—districts and schools are awarded points based on every student’s level of achievement.)
Update both measures in the Achievement Indicator so that they disaggregate data for ESSA’s additional required subgroups.
For public elementary and middle schools, information concerning student performance on another academic indicator for all students and disaggregated by subgroup. States are permitted to use a measure of student growth or “another valid and reliable statewide academic indicator that allows for meaningful differentiation in school performance.”
-The Progress indicator, which is composed of value-added data for grades 4–8 in math and reading. (High school value added was reported starting in 2014–15 and will become a formal part of the value-added rating system in 2015–16.) This indicator is intended to measure how much each student learns in a year, disaggregating data into three student subgroups: gifted students, students with disabilities, and students in the lowest 20 percent of achievement statewide.
-The Gap Closing indicator, which measures the academic performance of specific demographic groups and compares them to the collective performance of all students in Ohio. This indicator is intended to gauge whether schools are closing achievement gaps.
- The Progress indicator almost certainly fulfills the student growth option.
- The Gap Closing indicator could fit the description of “another valid and reliable statewide academic indicator that allows for meaningful differentiation in school performance.”
- Update all indicators so that they disaggregate data for ESSA’s additional required subgroups.
For public high schools, information on graduation rates for all students, disaggregated by subgroup.
-The Graduation Rate indicator, which measures how many students graduate within four or five years of entering ninth grade for the first time.
-ESSA requires states to use the four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate (Ohio does) and permits states to use the extended-year adjusted cohort graduation rate (Ohio also grades the five-year graduation rate).
Update the indicator so that it disaggregates data for ESSA’s additional required subgroups.
Information on the number and percentage of English learners achieving English language proficiency.
-ESSA requires that districts provide “an annual assessment of English proficiency of all English learners” and that the assessment must be “aligned with the state’s English language proficiency standards.”
-ESSA requires that all report card indicators are annually measured except progress in achieving English language proficiency. This means that the state will not have to add a graded measure to its report card—it will just need to report the data from the annual assessment.
Information on no less than one indicator of school quality or student success for all students, disaggregated by subgroup. This could include measures of student engagement, educator engagement, student access to and completion of advanced coursework, post-secondary readiness, or school climate and safety.
The Prepared for Success indicator, which contains six distinct measures: college admission tests; College Credit Plus; industry credentials; honors diplomas awarded; Advanced Placement (participation rate and percentage scoring three or above); and the International Baccalaureate Program (participation rate and percentage scoring four or above). This measure is scheduled to become an A–F rated component on Ohio’s report cards in 2015–16.
-To fulfill this mandate, ESSA permits both a measure of student access to and completion of advanced coursework and a measure of post-secondary readiness. The Prepared for Success indicator seems to meet both of these criteria.
-Update the indicator so that it disaggregates data for ESSA’s additional required subgroups.
Information on the progress toward state-designed long-term goals for all students, disaggregated by subgroup.
Under Ohio’s NCLB waiver, the Gap Closing indicator would have covered this requirement. As part of the transition to ESSA, Ohio will need to craft revised long-term goals and determine how to measure the progress of all of its students and its subgroups against those goals. It’s possible that the Gap Closing indicator can still be used.
Information on the percentage of students assessed and not assessed, disaggregated by subgroup.
Per NCLB, untested students are included on Ohio’s report cards. The state will have to begin to disaggregate for ESSA’s additional required subgroups.
Of course, guidance for states in regards to ESSA doesn’t stop with federal statute. The Department of Education (USDOE) recently released its proposed regulations. The chart below outlines a few of USDOE’s proposed regulations and determines whether Ohio’s current report card system fits within them. If these regulations become final, areas where Ohio will need to make changes are shaded:
Next steps for Ohio
When sharing information about student achievement on the state’s chosen academic assessments, states must measure proficiency rates—and proficiency rates alone.
Ohio’s Achievement indicator currently includes Performance Index, which doesn’t seem to match what the proposed regulations allow as a measurement of student achievement.
If it turns out that Performance Index doesn’t fulfill the proposed regulations, Ohio would need to establish a student achievement indicator that fulfills the regulations’ mandate to measure only proficiency rates and ensure that the new measure disaggregates data for ESSA’s additional required subgroups. Ohio could choose to make Performance Index its own, separate indictor in addition to the required achievement indicator.
States must assign a comprehensive, summative rating for each school.
Ohio already plans to implement an overall rating for each district and school starting in 2018.
Ensure that the state implements overall ratings on schedule.
Carefully consider how to weight each indicator.
States must report individual schools’ performance on each indicator.
Ohio already does this with its current indicators.
Ensure that the performance of individual schools is reported for each selected indicator.
Indicators of Academic Progress and School Quality or Student Success must be supported by research indicating that performance or progress will likely increase student achievement or graduation rates.
Ohio doesn’t explicitly explain how the measures on its current report cards would increase achievement or graduation rates.
Many of Ohio’s current indicators and measures have research to back them up; ODE will likely need to include links to relevant research.
States must use a minimum of four distinct indicators for accountability and must use the same measures within each indicator for all schools.
Ohio currently has six distinct indicators and uses the same measures for all schools, except for its dropout-recovery charter schools and career and technical education districts.
Determine how (if necessary) to include dropout-recovery charters and career and technical education districts in the system.
States must establish at least three distinct performance levels on each indicator.
Ohio assesses performance of districts and schools on an A–F grading scale, which equates to five performance levels.
Retain the current performance levels.
States must include all public charter schools in their accountability systems.
Ohio already does this, though dropout-recovery charter schools are part of an alternative accountability system.
Determine how (if necessary) to include dropout-recovery charters in the system.
The dissemination of state report cards must occur no later than December 31 each year, beginning in the 2017–18 school year.
Ohio’s report cards are typically released in August.
Retain the current system.
Report cards must include the percentages of students performing at each level of achievement, by grade, on reading, math, and science tests.
Ohio already does this on the Performance Index portion of the Achievement Indicator.
Retain the current Achievement Indicator.
Luckily, ESSA contains provisions that allow states and districts to use report cards that were already in effect and to reduce the “duplication of effort by obtaining the information required…through existing data collection efforts.” These provisions could be interpreted as confirmation that Ohio can revise what it’s doing rather than start from scratch, so long as districts heed the legal requirement to make their report cards accessible to the public on their websites. One can hope that’s so, because a directive for Ohio to jettison a perfectly acceptable state model in the name of a federal law intended to return power to states is, well, a whole new kind of federal meddling.
 States are tasked under ESSA with determining the appropriate number of students that must be in a group before it is disaggregated.