Where states stand in meeting ESSA accountability requirements

Where states stand in meeting ESSA accountability requirements

(N.Y.)  Only six states have developed a mechanism that measures non-English speaking students’ progression of learning the language that meet new federal education law, according to a new survey.

Conversely, 42 states may already meet another reporting requirement of the Every Student Succeeds Act because they use some indicator of school quality or student success other than test scores and student growth data.

“We really think this report is a useful baseline resource for states as they start to think about what their new systems should look like under the Every Student Succeeds Act,” said Scott Sargrad, managing director of the K-12 education policy team at the Center for American Progress in an interview last week. “It gives policy makers a sense of what’s actually happening across the country, not just in their own state…but what all 50 states are doing and the types of indicators they’re including; the way that they’re weighting them and combining them to get school ratings.”

The CAP report, “Making the Grade: A 50-State Analysis of School Accountability Systems,” takes inventory of all the various mechanisms and calculations that states use to meet federal reporting mandates and to make sure all students are graduating from high school ready for college or a career-track.

The report also examines how current accountability systems compare with provisions of ESSA at a time when most states are in the midst of transitioning to new plans that meet requirements of the reauthorized No Child Left Behind Act, approved by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama last December. Under the law, states must adopt and implement their new accountability systems by the start of the 2017-18 school year.

ESSA’s new mandates require states to hold schools accountable for student performance in English language arts and mathematics, and include a second academic indicator, such as growth over time in ELA and mathematics. The new systems must also show progress in students achieving English language proficiency, high school graduation rates and at least one measure of school quality or student success.

States are required to disaggregate these indicators by individual subgroups of students, including those from low-income families, those from major racial and ethnic groups, those with disabilities, and English language learners. In addition to using specific categories of indicators, ESSA also includes requirements related to the emphasis, or weighting, placed upon each indicator.

Because states over the years have created their own statewide accountability systems, many, like California, are updating those to include the federally-mandated reporting requirements.

All states already use math and English language arts assessments to show individual student academic achievement because it was required under NCLB. States also were required to include in their systems an additional academic indicator for elementary and middle schools; for high schools, states were required to include the graduation rate. States, according to the CAP report, have commonly relied on attendance, or the percentage of students who come to school each day, as their additional academic indicator.

The report’s analysts found that state accountability systems “range in sophistication” and include a total of 60 unique performance measures nationwide, which they broke into seven main categories of indicators: achievement indicators, student growth indicators in multiple academic subjects; English language acquisition indicators; early warning indicators, such as chronic absenteeism; persistence indicators, such as graduation rates; college- and career-ready indicators, such as participation in and performance on college entry exams; and other indicators, such as access to the arts.

For example, researchers found that while all states use math and English test scores as an academic achievement measure, 29 states include a measure of student academic achievement in science, writing, or social studies. Of the states that measure additional academic subjects, 15 states measure science; two states measure science and writing; nine states measure science and social studies; and three states measure science, writing, and social studies.

States rely on different statistical methods to incorporate achievement data into their accountability systems, CAP researchers reported. Maryland, for example, counts the percentage of students who score “proficient” or “advanced” in ELA, mathematics and science.

“This method is intuitive, easily communicating achievement to schools, parents, and students,” authors wrote. “However, focusing on the proficiency cut point limits the information to a ‘label’ and masks student performance at both high and low achievement levels. States also may set different cut points, so a proficient student in one state may not be the same as a proficient student in another.”

While academic achievement provides a snapshot of student proficiency each year, student growth indicators show the difference in individual student proficiency year-to-year. Growth measurements enable schools to better understand student performance by identifying students who have improved but are not yet proficient and those who have progressed to meet proficiency but are not yet advanced.

Forty-six states measure growth in ELA and mathematics, and seven states also measure growth in science or science and social studies, according to the study, and definitions of growth vary by state, such as the percentage of students making one year’s growth or the percentage of students who are on track to be on grade level within three years. Some states, in addition to measuring growth for all students, include measures that capture the growth of historically disadvantaged subgroups.

The state of Washington, for example, uses student growth percentiles, or SGPs. SGPs measure the amount of growth a student makes in a subject relative to his or her peers, which include students in the same grade who had similar scores in that subject the previous year. A student with an SGP of 85, for example, has shown more growth than 85 percent of his or her academic peers. The state also calculates a median SGP to summarize growth for districts and schools.

Colorado, on the other hand, uses adequate growth percentiles, or AGPs. AGPs build on the basics of SGPs to determine if a student has made sufficient growth. “In other words, AGPs measure the growth percentile needed for a student to catch up to or to maintain proficiency in a subject,” said the study’s authors.

Under No Child Left Behind, states were responsible for improving English learners’ language proficiency in addition to their academic achievement. NCLB, however, treated language acquisition differently than subject area achievement, which required states to set up a separate accountability system that only applied to districts, not schools, researchers wrote.

Through federal flexibility waivers issued prior to the reauthorization of NCLB, six states – Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Texas – incorporated a measure of English language proficiency or growth into their statewide accountability systems. But under the reauthorized ESSA, all states will now be required to include a measure of progress in achieving English language proficiency as a specific indicator in statewide accountability systems.

This means 44 states still need to incorporate a measure of English language acquisition into their statewide accountability systems. The review of the six existing systems that include this data revealed that some, such as Massachusetts and Georgia, may have to revise their methodology to afford English language acquisition the “substantial weight” required under ESSA.

Arizona, for example, includes in its system the English language learner reclassification rate on the Arizona English Language Learner Assessment. Georgia, on the other hand, measures the percentage of English language learners who have improved to a higher state-determined performance band on the Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State for English Language Learners exam, and Illinois assesses English language proficiency by the percentage of students achieving a half score increase or a maximum score on the ACCESS for ELLs.

On average, said the researchers, states that measure English language acquisition weight the indicator at seven percent of in elementary and middle school systems and six percent in high school systems. Illinois and Colorado give the most weight to language proficiency, with an average of 13 percent and six percent across all schools, respectively.

Of the states that weight indicators in their accountability systems, academic achievement accounts for an average of 48 percent of a school’s overall accountability rating, with individual systems ranging from 20 percent for elementary and middle schools and 15 percent for high schools to 100 percent for all schools. States assign greater weight to achievement in elementary and middle school systems – 51 percent, on average – than high school systems – 42 percent, on average.

When it comes to satisfying “the most novel component of ESSA,” the school quality or student success indicator, the analysts said states can measure student engagement, educator engagement, student access to and completion of advanced course work, postsecondary readiness, school climate and safety, or any other measure that the state chooses as long as the measure allows for meaningful differentiation among schools and is valid, reliable, comparable, and statewide.

“At present, 42 states include in their accountability systems at least one early warning indicator, persistence indicator other than graduation rates, college- and career-ready indicator, or other indicator – excluding test participation – that might fulfill ESSA criteria,” they said.

These include dropout rates, used by 11 states, and the rate at which schools re-engage dropouts – data used by Massachusetts and Texas. Five states incorporate other measures of persistence into accountability, including the percentage of students graduating from a particular program or with a GED certificate. Virginia incorporates into its graduation index students who earn a GED certificate or certificate of completion. South Dakota includes a completer rate, which captures the percentage of students who have attained a diploma or GED certificate.

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