At last count, 12 states and the District of Columbia have submitted plans to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act to the U.S. Department of Education for review and approval. There’s a lot to dig into in these plans, but we’ve started by asking three key questions to determine whether states proposed accountability systems are designed to promote equity and improvement:

  • What’s the state measuring?
  • Do all groups of students matter in the ratings given to every school?
  • How does the state identify schools that need to improve for individual groups of students?

What did we find?

Most states are measuring the right things. But too many aren’t measuring them for all groups of students. And, despite widespread inequities in opportunity and achievement, too many are expecting only the lowest of the low performers to take action to improve.

When it comes to measures, most states are prioritizing students’ academic achievement as measured by whether students are on grade level, whether students are making progress from year to year, whether students are graduating from high school, and whether English learners are making enough progress to reach English language proficiency. And they’re supplementing these measures with others that are important for student success, such as chronic absenteeism and college and career readiness.

This is an important start, but hold the applause. Because if a measure is good enough to count in a school rating, it should count for each group of students — including low-income students, students from major racial/ethnic categories, students with disabilities, and English learners.

And that’s where too many of the submitted plans fall far short.

Rather than rating schools based on the performance of each group of students, some are lumping individual groups together into “supergroups.” This runs the very real risk of sweeping the underperformance of some groups of students under the rug, and allowing a school to be considered “Good” even if it’s falling far short for some of its students.

And when it comes to identifying which schools need to take steps to improve performance for individual groups of students, too many states have set an exceedingly low bar. For example, some states are only identifying schools if their performance for a student group is in the bottom 5 percent of results statewide for that group. Not only does this communicate painfully low expectations, but it also communicates different expectations for each group of students.

In the coming weeks, we’ll dig deeper into these trends. And we’ll report on trends in other key parts of state plans, such as how states plan to prompt improvement in schools that are struggling overall and those that are struggling to educate one or more groups of students.

But based on what we’ve seen so far — equity advocates beware. While most states are expanding their accountability systems to include an important set of measures, too many are choosing to turn their backs on the historically underserved students who need, and deserve, attention.

Photo credit: Beatriz Pérez Moya