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Ed Note published a 3-part series that covered school accountability requirements, following the Every Student Succeeds Act enactment in December 2015. See highlights of the act’s history, state implementation and COVID-19 pandemic impact.

Part 1 – The Every Student Succeeds Act: 5 Years Later

March 29, 2021

  • December 2015 – Every Student Succeeds Act was signed into law, sweeping changes to K-12 education, particularly state accountability systems.
  • Fall 2017 – all states had submitted their ESSA state plans for implementation, which were reviewed and approved by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Indicators of success include proficiency on assessments, student growth, high school graduation rates, progress of English learners and school quality or student success.
  • States are granted the flexibility to identify and weight indicators within the requirements of ESSA to better evaluate school performance using both academic and non-academic components.
    • Kentucky’s legislature moved to change state and federal accountability system in 2020 to include a shift to measuring a condensed list of indicators across both current achievement and growth, as well as a new color-coded system for reporting school performance
    • New Mexico reconsidered the way they rate and identify schools to provide a more holistic picture of school performance and mapped out a new state accountability system and report card that shifted away from letter grades for schools; adjusted weighting and added new growth indicators; and created a dashboard that paints a picture of school performance on federal accountability requirements and other state priorities.
  • Since ESSA, states have continued to amend and tweak their accountability systems to better measure and identify schools based on student growth and achievement as well as other state priorities.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic created uncertainty around state accountability and pushed states to reevaluate their systems entirely.

April 5, 2021

Part 2 – States Assess Accountability Requirements During COVID-19

  • Final year of ESSA implementation brought unprecedented challenges to education systems nationwide.
  • In response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s overwhelming impact on education systems, all 50 states received USDE waivers for their state accountability system requirements, including administration of ESSA-required assessments for the 2019-20 school year. 
    • USDE Guidance indicated that states would be required to administer 2021 assessments, with some flexibilities.
  • In 2020, states enacted legislation allowing state boards or departments to request waivers from future assessment and accountability requirements.
    • North Carolina S.B. 704 changed requirements for the calculation of school performance ratings and the display of school report cards for the 2020-21 school year.
  • In 2021, states are considering legislation to request additional waivers of assessment and accountability requirements from the U.S. Department of Education.
    • Tennessee policymakers passed S.B. 7001 to exclude data generated by state assessments and  alternative growth models used by school districts in the 2020-21 school year from teacher evaluations and certain accountability determinations.
  • States have also indicated that they will suspend school ratings for the 2020-21 school year. 
    • Arkansas moved to suspend the public school rating system for the 2020-21 school year.
  • States are currently considering assessment changes and accountability waivers in addition to legislation.
    • Montana submitted a letter of support to the federal office of elementary and secondary education to waive standardized testing requirements for the 2020-21 school year.
    • Michigan requested waivers from ESSA assessment and accountability requirements for the 2020-21 school year due to pandemic disruptions.

April 12, 2021

Part 3 – What’s Next for School Accountability?

  • Now that we know assessments will not be waived again in 2021, how will states administer assessments and how will those results be used for accountability or teacher evaluation purposes?
    • Some states are making tweaks to the spring 2021 assessments and their impact on accountability to remove the high stakes nature of statewide assessment.
    • Focus shifting to measuring potential learning impacts, adjust future instruction, and inform parents and teachers of student progress.
    • Massachusetts enacted H.B. 4616 stating any assessment data gathered in 2020 should only be used to inform educators and parents about student performance; also requires school districts to submit a three-year plan for student improvement in order to address persistent disparities in student opportunity.
    • Michigan enacted H.B. 5913, which requires schools to develop extended COVID-19 learning plans that include the use of benchmark assessments to measure student progress toward achievement goals.
    • Data collection and district efforts to address disparities and improve student achievement remain a priority for states.
  • How will states address the gap in assessment and accountability data from the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school year?
    • State policymakers are facing a difficult balancing act between the need for assessment data to identify needs and target supports, the efficacy and validity of testing in the current education landscape, and the health and social and emotional needs of students.
    • Existing gap issues and accountability challenges could stall progress for under-resourced schools and exacerbate persistent inequities for students.
    • States are looking at various options for addressing missed assessment and accountability data. Options include transferring data from 2019 or waiting until testing is possible and adopting a skip-year growth model to evaluate student progress.
    • Colorado rolled over the school accountability ratings from 2019. In addition, executive order followed by state legislation (H.B. 20-1418) paused state accountability ratings for the 2020-21 school year, further rolling over the 2019 accountability ratings. A stakeholder group provided a series of recommendations to the governor and legislature about how to proceed in the 2021-22 school year (results of that group).
  • What changes, if any, will be made to state accountability systems moving forward?
    • As states continue to consider assessment and accountability system adjustments in response to the pandemic, they are also finding opportunities to adopt long-term changes.
    • With significant questions still up in the air, Education Commission of the States will continue to track state activity and welcomes input from state education leaders.

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