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When Equity is Optional: Results from Early ESSA Implementation

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gave states significant flexibility in designing school accountability systems. Unfortunately, new data on ESSA implementation show that flexibility and equity are often in conflict. Under the new law, the state in which students live matters a great deal.

Our analyses—using data from the first year of ESSA implementation in ten states (Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio, and Washington)—finds that states have used ESSA’s flexibility to take wildly varied approaches to school ratings and school improvement:

As a result, students in low-performing schools in different states have very different odds of receiving the support they need to improve. The variation is especially troubling given that, across all ten states, students of color are much more likely to attend low-rated schools.

Race and School Ratings

Students of Color Disproportionately Attend Low-Rated Schools

School ratings can reveal disparities in the quality of education different groups of students receive. Based on the enrollment of students by race in schools with the highest and lowest ratings under ESSA, students of color do not have equitable access to an excellent education.

Finding: Black and Latino students were more likely to attend low-rated schools than White students. 

Black and Latino students are much more likely to attend low-rated schools and be underrepresented in high-rated schools. Equity shouldn’t be optional for states. Read #WhenEquityisOptional report from @All4Ed: https://all4ed.org/when-equity-is-optional

School Ratings and Identification

How State Choices Affect School Ratings and Identification for Support under ESSA

School ratings can reveal disparities in the quality of education different groups of students receive. Based on the enrollment of students by race in schools with the highest and lowest ratings under ESSA, students of color do not have equitable access to an excellent education.

Finding: The likelihood a school was identified for support varied widely by state.

Under #ESSA, a struggling school in FL is much more likely to be identified for support and additional resources than one in MI. @All4Ed shows how leaving accountability up to states has had mixed results: https://all4ed.org/when-equity-is-optional #WhenEquityIsOptional

Finding: Low-rated schools were often overlooked for support.

The way states identify which schools are identified for additional support and funding varies widely. Even worse, in some states, the lowest-rated schools were often overlooked for support under #ESSA. https://all4ed.org/when-equity-is-optional #WhenEquityIsOptional

Low-Graduation-Rate High Schools

Low-Graduation-Rate High Schools and the 67% Threshold

ESSA requires states to identify high schools where fewer than 67% of students graduate for comprehensive support and improvement (CSI). This might seem like a bright-line rule that would affect states similarly, but the likelihood that high schools are identified varies widely—largely due to differences in graduation rates between states but also because of state policy choices that overlook some low-graduation-rate high schools.

Finding: The 67% threshold affected states differently.

Students’ odds of graduating high school depend on the state they live in–which means some states have few low-grad-rate HS under #ESSA and others have hundreds. #WhenEquityIsOptional report from @All4Ed explains: https://all4ed.org/when-equity-is-optional

Finding: Reporting a four-year graduation rate below the 67% threshold did not guarantee a high school would be identified.

Across the nation, some high schools where 1 out of 3 students fail to graduate on time aren’t being identified by state leaders for additional supports. #WhenEquityIsOptional report from @All4Ed explains why: https://all4ed.org/when-equity-is-optional

Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.