States to Gain Flexibility with New ESSA Accountability Systems

By Shawntaye Hopkins, CSG Communications Associate
During a recent CSG eCademy webcast, “The Every Student Succeeds Act: What Does it Mean for State Accountability and Data?” experts discussed the increased flexibility that the new law gives states and policymakers as well as opportunities to share better data with schools and communities.
The Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, is the new name of the reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act. ESSA replaces the No Child Left Behind Act and goes into effect at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year.
ESSA returns a lot of autonomy and flexibility to states and school districts, said Lu Young, an instructor in the University of Kentucky Department of Educational Leadership Studies.
“Most of us are feeling like we’re taking a deep breath and having a chance to kind of recalibrate and get large-scale, high-stakes accountability back in line with what we’re doing in states and districts,” Young said. “We see this as a bit of a reprieve and a time to recalibrate and get things right.”
Young reviewed the requirements for school accountability under ESSA. States must continue to set goals that aim to close achievement and graduation gaps. Also, states must measure academic achievement, graduation rates, English-language proficiency and non-academic indicators of school quality or success determined by the state.
Gretchen Guffy, policy director at ACT Inc., which produces the ACT college readiness standardized test, discussed assessment, noting that states can use nationally recognized tests, such as the ACT, in lieu of state tests for federal accountability.
“States can apply for funding to experiment with innovative forms of assessment, including competency-based, performance-based, interim, cumulative year-end, computer-adaptive—a whole host of innovative opportunities are available and, I think, incentivized through ESSA,” Guffy said.
Guffy said states have many opportunities to incorporate measures into their accountability systems that weren’t available before.
States must submit assessment systems in English and language arts, or ELA, and math and science for peer review to the U.S. Department of Education. In states such as Wyoming, where the ACT is being used for statewide accountability at the high school level, ACT supports the state in submission development to ensure that assessments meet certain requirements, Guffy said.
Brennan McMahon Parton, associate director of state policy and advocacy for Data Quality Campaign, said ESSA represents an opportunity to do what is best for students, teachers and families in each individual state.
ESSA is “an opportunity to hit the reset button on the conversation in your state with families and educators,” Parton said. “It’s an opportunity to really bring people to the table and say, ‘Let’s think about this together—about what we really think student success looks like in our state.’”
She listed three things states should start thinking about right now, starting with how data should be used. Parton said states have a chance to think about what they want to be transparent about and what information they want to provide schools for continuous improvement.
“This is really an opportunity to use data in different ways,” Parton said.
Now is also the time for states to review and understand what data are available and what data are needed.
“We think this is a really important time to be getting your data house in order,” she said.
Finally, states must begin to “engage stakeholders and plan thoughtfully,” Parton said. “Stakeholder engagement is required in the new law, and that was really Congress sending a message saying, ‘Go out to your communities and talk together about what’s important to you.’”
“It’s not top down from the feds to the states anymore, but it’s not only top down from states down to communities,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to work together.”
Parton discussed new measures and disaggregation required under ESSA. States must better track and report how well homeless students, students in foster care and military-connected students are doing academically. ESSA also requires that states calculate and report indicators of postsecondary enrollment, where available.
“We know that at least 39 states are already able to collect and report this information,” Parton said. “So we’re really going to be looking for pretty much every state to be making this valuable indicator available to parents and communities.”
The full webcast is available online in the CSG Knowledge Center at



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