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HELD ACCOUNTABLE: Current State Accountability Systems Overlook Students’ English Language Skills, Says New Report

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Under ESSA, states have the opportunity to build upon and improve their current systems with indicators that more fully capture student achievement and overall school success.

Most states will need to adjust their accountability systems to comply fully with new requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), since the majority do not include an indicator that focuses specifically on English language learners’ English language acquisition, a requirement under the new federal education law. That finding comes from Making the Grade: A 50-State Analysis of School Accountability Systems, a new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP).

“Under No Child Left Behind [NCLB], states were responsible for improving English learners’ language proficiency in addition to their academic achievement,” the report explains. “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.”

As a result, only six states—Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Texas—currently include English language proficiency or growth in their statewide accountability systems, according to the CAP report. In addition to students’ English language acquisition, ESSA also requires states to hold schools accountable for student performance in English language arts (ELA) and math; a second academic indicator, such as student growth in ELA and math; high school graduation rates; and at least one measure of school quality or student success. Additionally, on all indicators (except English language acquisition) states must monitor the performance of individual student subgroups including racial/ethnic groups, students from low-income families, students with disabilities, and English language learners. States must implement their new accountability systems in School Year 2017–18.

The CAP report analyzes the current accountability systems in all fifty states and the District of Columbia to determine how those systems align with ESSA’s requirements. The report identifies sixty unique measures that states include in their accountability systems, which the authors group into seven categories:

  1. achievement indicators
  2. student growth indicators
  3. English language acquisition indicators
  4. persistence indicators
  5. early-warning indicators
  6. college- and career-ready indicators
  7. other indicators unique to individual states

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Every state accountability system includes achievement indicators that measure student academic performance in ELA and math—a requirement carried over from NCLB. Twenty-nine states include student achievement indicators in science as well, as shown in the map above from the report. (The report includes similar maps that track whether state accountability systems measure student performance in writing or social studies. An online interactive map also is available to compare accountability indicators between states.)

Some states like West Virginia also hold schools accountable for reducing academic achievement gaps between certain groups of students, such as between affluent and poor students and between white students and students of color, the report says.

Additionally, every state accountability system includes at least one persistence indicator, such as a high school graduation or dropout rate. Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia include their four-year cohort high school graduation rate in their accountability systems, the report says. Washington is the only state that uses an extended-year cohort high school graduation rate instead of the four-year rate, the report notes. However, thirty-six state accountability systems include an extended-year cohort high school graduation rate in addition to the four-year rate.

States have not limited their accountability systems solely to academic indicators. Twenty-seven state accountability systems include other types of performance and quality indicators that are either unique to those states or outside the scope of the report’s main categories. Accountability systems in states such as Georgia, Illinois, and New Mexico, for instance, include measures of school climate. Meanwhile, Virginia’s accountability system rewards schools for student participation in advanced science, technology, engineering, and math courses. Iowa’s system factors staff retention into school accountability ratings.

“Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, states have additional flexibility when it comes to designing school accountability systems—but are still tasked with making sure that every student is ready for college and a career,” says Carmel Martin, executive vice president for policy at CAP and coauthor of the report, in a statement. “This report will help states understand what kind of measures their colleagues across the country are using, but states should not be limited by current options. They have the opportunity to build upon and improve their current systems with indicators that more fully capture student achievement and overall school success.”

Making the Grade: A 50-State Analysis of School Accountability Systems is available at https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/education/report/2016/05/19/137444/making-the-grade/.

For additional information about ESSA’s accountability provisions, read the Alliance for Excellent Education’s fact sheet, watch this special edition of Federal Flash, or visit all4ed.org/essa.

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