What’s at Stake for Schools in ESSA Implementation? (Part 2, State Accountability Plans)

With DPI listening sessions about to begin, we continue a several-part analysis of what decisions the state and local districts will need to make to implement the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Our first post covered some of the basics of the new law. In this post, we delve into more detail on the decisions ESSA requires states must make.

States play a unique role in ESSA implementation. School leaders should examine state-level Title I decisions with an eye toward how they will impact your district at a local level as well as for opportunities for collaboration and consensus building.

School Improvement and Direct Student Services

The state will need to develop applications for school districts seeking funds for school improvement activities. It will also need to decide if it wants to set aside up to 3 percent of its Title I funds in order to establish a program of direct student services, and if so, how much. If the answer in Wisconsin is “yes,” the state will need to:

  • Begin the process of designing such a program;
  • Engage in required consultation with school districts;
  • Develop grant applications;
  • Develop and implement processes for compiling and maintaining a list of approved “academic tutoring providers”; and
  • Develop a process for monitoring the quality of all providers.

State Plans

ESSA requires states to develop new accountability plans; this includes creating a process to consult with their governor, state legislature, and other stakeholders. States must decide whether their plan will be part of a consolidated plan (more on that later). Such consultation with the governor requires a 30-day review period by the governor’s office.

Challenging Academic Standards

State plans must include an assurance that the state has adopted “challenging academic content standards and aligned academic achievement standards.” The state must decide:

  • If it will create new standards or revise current standards to meet the new requirements;
  • How it will demonstrate that its standards are “aligned with entrance requirements for credit-bearing coursework I the system of public higher education in the state and relevant state career ad technical education standards”; and
  • If it wants to adopt alternative standards for students with disabilities or whether any changes are necessary to any existing standards the state has previously adopted.

The state may need to reviews its English language proficiency (ELP) standards to ensure that they are in alignment with the new requirement under ESSA that ELP standards address different proficiency levels, which was not a requirement under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the previous version of the law.


Under ESSA, states may decide if they will implement assessments in other subjects. They may also decide to have assessments delivered at least partially, in the form of portfolios, projects, or extended performance tasks. States may decide if assessments will be administrated through a single summative assessment or “through multiple statewide interim assessments during the course of the academic year that result in a single summative score that provides valid, reliable, and transparent information on student achievement or growth.”

Additionally, the state will need to determine if its ELP assessments aligns with its ELP standards, and revise those assessments if they do not. The state may also decide if it will exempt eighth graders who take advanced mathematics in middle school from the regular state mathematics assessment.

The state will have to determine whether it will adopt alternative assessments for students with significant cognitive disabilities or modify such assessments t already has place. States are also required to determine how they will provide additional oversight to districts that administer these assessments should they be assessing more than 1 percent of their total student population via these assessments.

Statewide Accountability Systems

Each state plan must include a description of the statewide accountability system. Key decisions include:

  • The minimum number of students (called the “n-size”) that the state determines is necessary to be include the carry out such requirements, as well as:
    • How that number is statistically sound.
    • How such a minimum number of students was determined by the state, including how the state collaborated with teachers, principals, other school leaders, parents and other stakeholders when determining such minimum number; and Steps the state has taken to ensure that such minimum number is sufficient not to result in revealing any personally identifiable information for any students.
    • Steps the state has taken to ensure that such minimum number is sufficient to not reveal any personally identifiable student information.


The state will have to establish “ambitious long-term goals, which must include measurements of interim progress toward meeting such goals;” and it must decide what constitutes “long-term” and “interim.” At a minimum, the state must set goals for:

  • Academic achievement, as measured by proficiency on annual state assessments, within which the state may decide to include growth on assessments for high schools.
  • Graduation rates, in which the state must decide if it wants to use the extended–year rate in addition to the four-year cohort graduation rate.
  • Any other measure of growth as determined by the state (not necessarily based on state assessments), or another “valid and reliable indicator that allows for meaningful differentiation in school performance” for all non-high schools.
  • Progress of English learners in attaining English language proficiency—the state must determine what is meant by progress.
  • One additional school quality or student success indicator—the state must decide what additional indicator or indicators it will use that will allow for “meaningful differentiation in school performance” for all public schools in the state.

The state must develop a system to “meaningfully differentiate all public schools in the state based on the indicators noted above.

  • In developing such a system, the state will have to decide how much weight to assign to each indicator, while ensuring that each indicator has “substantial weight.”
  • The state must also ensure that, in the aggregate, the indicators that do not include the “additional school quality or student success indicators” are assigned a “much greater” wright. The state needs to decide what constitutes “substantial” and “much greater.”
  • The state may have discretion in weighting across subgroups
  • The state will need to decide whether to count former English learners as part of that subgroup for after four years after they exit this status. (Under the regulations for NCLB, this was allowed for only up to two years.)
  • The state must determine the timeline of the English learners’ progression toward proficiency.

The state must decide a methodology for identifying schools (based on the system of differentiation) for comprehensive support and improvements, and the option of designating additional categories of schools, beyond what is required by the new law, should be included.

  • ESSA requires high schools that graduate fewer than two-thirds of their students be identified for comprehensive improvement, but does not specify whether this identification is to be made based on the four-year adjusted cohort rate, an extended rate, or some other rate.
  • The state must decide hoe the requirement that 95 percent of all students and students in each subgroup participate in assessments will factor into its state accountability system.
  • Districts with schools identified by the state for comprehensive support and improvement must develop a plan for each such school.
    • The state must determine its plan approval process and what will be required for approval. The state must also develop the process by which it will provide on-going monitoring and review of the plan.
    • The state must decide if it will permit differentiated improvement activities for high schools that predominantly serve students who are either significantly off track to graduate or returning to school after dropping out.
    • The state must decide if it will permit high schools with a total enrollment of less than 100 students to forgo otherwise required improvement activities.
  • The state must notify districts if they have any school or schools where any subgroup of students is consistently underperforming.
    • The state must decide what constitutes “consistently” and “underperforming.”
    • The state must decide how frequently to identify these schools.
  • The state must decide what the exit criteria will be for schools identified as in need of comprehensive support and improvement.
  • The state must decide how many years schools will have to be in the underperforming category in order to meet the criteria for continued support, and decide which “more rigorous” actions must be taken by such schools (which may include addressing school level operations).
  • For targeted schools, the state must determine the number of years after which such schools will instead be identified for comprehensive support and improvement.
  • The state must develop a process to periodically review resource allocation for supporting school improvement in each district that serves a significant number of schools identified for comprehensive support and improvement and schools identified for targeted support. The state must also determine how it will provide technical assistance to each such district.
  • The state must decide if it will take actions to initiate additional improvement in districts are consistently identified by the state for comprehensive school improvement and are not meeting the state’s exit criteria or have a significant number of schools implementing targeted support and improvement plans.
  • The state must decide if it will establish alternative evidence-based strategies that can be used by districts to assist a school that is identified for comprehensive support and improvement and, if so, what these strategies will be.

Next: Additional State Plan Provisions and State Report Cards


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