One of the hallmarks of school accountability is the identification of and intervention in persistently low-preforming schools. Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), schools were required to make adequate yearly progress (AYP); if they fell short, they were subject to a set of escalating consequences. Much of the backlash against NCLB was a result of these consequences being imposed from afar with little flexibility. So when Congress geared up for reauthorization, it wasn’t surprising that the new law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), shifted the responsibility of identification and intervention to the states.

Last week, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) released an overview of its proposed ESSA state plan. This isn’t the entire plan—the full draft will be released for public comment in early February. In future posts, we’ll do some deep dive analyses of the key areas and potential impacts of the full draft. But in the meantime, there’s plenty in the overview to explore—including how the Buckeye State plans to identify its lowest-performing schools.

ESSA requires states to identify at least two categories of schools: comprehensive support schools (which include the lowest-performing schools in the state) and targeted support schools (which include schools struggling with certain subgroups). Although ESSA requires only two categories, ODE’s plan proposes to carry over the three categories it currently uses that were a part of its federal waiver under NCLB/ESEA: priority schools, focus schools, and watch schools. Identification of these schools will begin at the end of the 2017-18 school year and, per ESSA requirements, the list of identified schools will be updated every three years. Let’s take a closer look at Ohio’s proposal for each of these categories.

Priority Schools

Priority is the name ODE plans to give to schools that fall under ESSA’s category of comprehensive support. There are three ways to fall onto this list:

  • Schools that receive an overall report card grade of F. Although Ohio hasn’t assigned a summative rating to schools in recent years, state law currently requires (but federal law no longer does) overall grades starting in 2018. ESSA requires that schools identified in this category include the lowest-performing 5 percent of Title I schools. Ohio’s plan notes that if less than 5 percent of schools receive an F, the next lowest-performing schools as determined by the overall report card grade will be added to meet the ESSA requirement.
  • Schools with a four-year graduation rate of less than 67 percent. It is an ESSA requirement that Ohio label such schools as comprehensive support schools (or in the case of Ohio, priority schools).
  • Schools with one or more subgroups performing at a level similar to the lowest 5 percent of schools.[1] According to ESSA, these types of schools start out under the targeted support label. If, however, a school fails to meet state-determined exit criteria within a certain number of years, it must transition into the priority category. Ohio already disaggregates some of its report card results based on certain subgroups (e.g., English language learners or race/ethnicity), but ESSA ups the ante by adding homeless students, foster care students, and children of active duty military personnel to the list of required subgroups for accountability. ODE’s plan also proposes to adjust its N-size for subgroups from 30 students to 15.

In order to move off of the priority schools list, schools must accomplish each of the following:

  1. Based on the overall report card grade, achieve school performance higher than the lowest 5 percent of schools for two consecutive years
  2. Earn a four-year graduation rate of more than 67 percent for two consecutive school years (if applicable)
  3. Have no student subgroups performing at a level similar to the lowest 5 percent of schools

Focus Schools

Focus is the name ODE proposes to give schools that fall under ESSA’s category of targeted support. There are three types of schools that will be labeled as focus schools:

  • Schools that earn a grade of D or F for the Gap Closing report card component for two consecutive years
  • Schools that have one or more student subgroups that fail to meet specific locally determined improvement goals for three consecutive years
  • Schools that do not meet multiple student subgroup performance benchmarks

In order to move off of the focus list, schools must earn an overall report card grade of C or better, earn a C or better on the Gap Closing component, and meet subgroup performance goals outlined by the state.

Watch Schools

Ohio’s additional category, watch schools, consists of schools that “struggle to meet the needs of one or more student subgroups.” ODE’s overview includes little detail about these schools, but the forthcoming plan is sure to offer more.

Although school identification is typically associated with low-performing schools, it’s worth noting that Ohio already identifies high performers. The state plans to continue these efforts under ESSA—even though it’s not required—in order to “honor and celebrate school districts that grow and achieve.” These recognition categories include schools that accomplish sustained achievement and substantial progress while serving a significant number of economically disadvantaged students and schools that exceed expectations in student growth for the year.

ODE’s plan for identifying low-performing schools shouldn’t be big news—other than changing the names of the categories and opting to have three categories instead of two, Ohio follows ESSA’s identification provisions pretty closely. The real drama is going to come with the news of which schools have been identified and how districts will select and implement improvement plans that actually work.

[1]This is based on individual subgroup performance.

Policy Priority:
Jessica Poiner - Fordham

Jessica Poiner is a 2011 Teach For America corps member who worked as a high school English teacher in Memphis, Tennessee. While in Memphis, she taught for Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District. A native of Ohio, Jessica holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Baldwin-Wallace University. 

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