A Deeper Dive into the State’s Draft ESSA Accountability Plan

This is the first in a series of posts looking at the requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and how the state’s draft accountability plan attempts to meet those requirements.ESSA Plan Template

Purpose—The primary purpose of the accountability system the state must develop in response to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is to appropriately identify schools with performance issues for comprehensive and targeted support and improvement efforts as required under ESSA.

Timeline—The state’s plan must be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education for approval by no later than September 18, 2017.  Prior to submission there is a required 30–day public review and a required 30–day review by the Governor.

Comments:  The DPI has announced that it is currently accepting public comments on the plan and will continue to accept comments through June 30, 2017.  (See previous post.) We expect the DPI will shortly announce the scheduling of a number of public listening sessions in late May and June.  In July, the DPI will submit the draft plan to lawmakers for their review and will then submit the plan to the governor for his review in August. The DPI has stated that it will revise the plan based on public, stakeholder, legislative and gubernatorial input.

Standards and Assessments—The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) maintains the requirements for states to adopt academic standards and aligned assessments.  Testing under ESSA is required for the same grades and subjects as under the  No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law it replaced.  (This means math and reading/English language arts must be assessed annually in grades three through eight and once in high school, and science must be assessed once in grades three through five, once in grades six through nine, and once in grades ten through twelve).

The ESSA law also requires schools to notify parents annually of their ability to obtain a copy of the test participation/testing opt-out policy of the district or state.

Comments:  Wisconsin’s draft plan states that “Wisconsin has adopted state academic standards in the areas of English language arts and mathematics that are rigorous, relevant and promote career and college readiness. The state assessments are aligned to these academic standards.” According to the DPI, “Academic standards are written goals for what students should know and be able to do at a specific grade or within a grade band. Standards in a subject area help ensure schools offer students the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for success in that academic area.”  Wisconsin uses the Wisconsin Forward Exam in grades 3-8 and the ACT suite in grades 9-11.

Accountability—The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaces the previous No Child Left Behind (NCLB) adequate yearly progress system with certain federally required components.  These include:

Goals—Under ESSA, states must establish “ambitious state-designed long-term goals: with measurements of interim progress for:

  1. Improved academic achievement on state assessments.
  2. Graduation rates.
  3. Progress in achieving English language proficiency for English learners.

Comments: Wisconsin ambitious goal is to cut achievement gaps in half within six (6) years in the areas of English language arts proficiency, Mathematics proficiency and high school graduation rates.  Of necessity, this means setting goals by subgroup (e.g., by race or disability status, etc.) Under the draft plan target goals will vary by subgroup.  Interim measures of progress toward each goal will be reported annually. For English language arts, this means a target goal of a 1.0 percent annual increase in grade-level proficiency for the All Students group.  Higher annual increases will be required for other subgroups to meet their target goals—ranging from a 1.6 percent annual increases in grade level proficiency for Asian students to 4.2 percent annual increases in grade level proficiency for black students. While the target goals are specific to each subgroup, the length of time to halve the gap is six years for all groups.

At the conclusion of the six-year timeline, in the 2022-23 school year, the state can re-evaluate—and potentially reset—the annual targets needed to close the achievement gaps entirely, essentially creating a second six-year period.

Because Wisconsin’s proficiency cut scores are aligned to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), this provides some assurances that the state’s grade level expectations are ambitious, rigorous, and aligned with college readiness benchmarks not just for Wisconsin colleges and universities but with national and international benchmarks as well.

Wisconsin’s standard practice has been and continues to be that a language other than English is present to a significant extent in the participating student population if the language has a written form and if it is the first language of students who represent at least 20 percent of English learners enrolled in grades K-12. The only language that meets this definition is Spanish.  Sixty-six percent (66%) of Wisconsin’s English learners indicate Spanish is their first language. The second largest non-English language group speak a Hmong dialect.

State Index—The state-defined index must include the following indicators:

  1. Academic indicators

a.  Academic achievement based on annual assessments and on the state’s goals.

Comments:  Under the state’s draft accountability plan, the academic achievement indicators will be based on combined English language arts (ELA) and mathematics performance on state assessments for the that All Students group and each subgroup meeting a cell size (n=20) of 20 students, and will be reported as a points-based proficiency rate. The combined score will equally weight ELA and math results.

b.  A measure of student growth or other statewide academic indicator for elementary and middle schools.

Comments:  Under the state’s draft accountability plan, Wisconsin will use a growth measure known as Student Growth Percentile modeling. As described by the DPI, a student growth percentile is a way to describe a student’s growth compared to students with similar prior performance (i.e., the student’s academic peers).

c.  Graduation rates for high schools based on the state’s goals.

Comments: The state’s draft accountability plan calls for calculating the graduation rate indicator both for the All Students group and for each subgroup meeting the minimum cell size (n=20) of 20 students in the most recent year available. The indicator will include the average of the four-year and eight-year adjusted cohort graduation rates, which will be translated into a graduation rate indicator score for the All Students group and each eligible subgroup.  The plan will not include the state’s alternative diploma in the calculation of graduation rates at this time.

d.  English proficiency based on the state’s goals.

Comments: The state’s draft accountability plan calls for the use of existing data points collected for state report card purposes.

  1. Measure of School Quality and Student Success

a.  At least one measure of school quality or student success (several examples are listed in ESSA, including student and educator engagement, access and completion of advanced coursework, post-secondary readiness, school climate and safety and another state-selected indicator).

Comments: The state’s draft accountability plan calls for the use of chronic absenteeism as a measure of school quality and student success. A student is “chronically absent” if they miss more than ten percent (10%) of possible days of attendance; the rate is calculated by school using multiple years of data.

Chronic absenteeism is a well-known and established indicator.  There is well-established research linking absenteeism and diminished school performance. This research is supported by Wisconsin data. As rates of chronic absenteeism increase not only individual student performance but also school level performance is negatively affected.  There is a tipping point beyond which the chronic absenteeism of individual students affects the performance of students who are not chronically absent.

While overall attendance rates are generally high for schools across Wisconsin, absenteeism rates vary, which allows for meaningful differentiation of school performance.

Based on the performance of schools and subgroups in schools on the indicators described above, states must “meaningfully differentiate” public schools in the state. “Substantial weight” must be given to the Academic Indicators (noted above) and these four indicators must, in the aggregate, be given “much greater weight” in the differentiation process than any Measures of School Quality or Student Success (noted above).

States must also test 95 percent of all students and 95 percent of students within each subgroup of students.

Comments:  Under the state’s draft accountability plan, Wisconsin will run an index-based accountability calculation to meaningfully differentiate school performance.  Calculations will be based on up to five possible indicators: academic achievement, student growth, graduation rate, English learner progress and chronic absenteeism.

Under the draft plan, achievement, growth and graduation rate will be evenly weighted (at 25 percent each) when all three measures are present in a school.  When one of those measures (e.g., growth or graduation rate) is not present, the weighting is adjusted, by expanding the weight given the other available measures (either achievement, growth or graduation rate).  Chronic absenteeism, as the school quality or student success indicator, is given a fixed weighting at 15 percent.  English learner progress, when applicable, is fixed at 10 percent.  If a school does not have and English learner progress indicator score, this weighting shifts to the growth indicator.