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New Analyses Identify Shortcomings and Strengths in State ESSA Plans

States Receive “Red-Yellow-Green” Ratings on Key Education Indicators

WASHINGTON, DC—Under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act, states received flexibility to chart their own path to educational success, but they must submit a plan to the U.S. Department of Education explaining how they will reach these goals. So far, sixteen states and the District of Columbia have submitted their plans with the remainder due in September. To provide a quick reference guide of strengths—and shortcomings—for each state’s plan, which in some cases are hundreds of pages long, the Alliance for Excellent Education today released the first five in a series of dashboards.

“Cars have a dashboard of indicators alerting drivers when they are running well, are too hot, are due for an oil change, or need more serious work,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “These red-yellow-green dashboards lift the hood on state ESSA plans, helping teachers, parents, and advocates easily identify whether states are speeding toward positive outcomes for all students or keeping students in the slow lane.”

The one-page dashboards provide a green, yellow, or red designation for more than one dozen policies, including each state’s long-term goals for student achievement and high school graduation rates; treatment of students of color, students from low-income families, English language learners, and other historically underserved students, and focus on academic performance. While the dashboards do not examine every aspect of state plans, the indicators included are essential for advancing equitable education opportunities for all students.

“Because students from low-income families and students of color make up more than half of all U.S. schoolchildren, continuing to improve the academic performance of these students is key to the nation’s future success,” said Wise.

The first five dashboards in the series focus on Colorado, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Louisiana, and New Mexico. And while none of the five plans is perfect, Louisiana’s plan is among the most promising due to its focus on academic outcomes and its use of an innovative “strength of diploma” indicator to make the high school experience more rigorous and meaningful.

Illinois sets high academic goals within a reasonable timeframe for all students, including historically underserved students, and uses a “ninth grade on-track” indicator to help prevent students from dropping out. Unlike many states, New Mexico identifies historically underserved students for support based on reading and math achievement, ensuring they do not have to fail on everything before receiving help. The District of Columbia ensures that historically underserved students count more in its system than in most states and sets impressive goals but over an unimpressive (i.e., long) timeframe.

On the other end of the spectrum, Colorado sets a high goal for its high school graduation rate, however, it does not have clear goals for increasing the percentage of students who perform on grade-level in math and reading. Additionally, by allowing students to opt-out of annual assessments, Colorado’s state plan appears to disregard federal law, potentially putting it on a collision course with the U.S. Department of Education.

“With these dashboards, parents and the public can hold state policymakers accountable for improving education policy while state policymakers can see how their efforts compare to other states,” said Wise.

Dashboards for Colorado, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Louisiana, and New Mexico are available at In July, the Alliance will post dashboards for Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont. In the interim, reporters with questions about those states’ plans should contact Jason Amos at


The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington, DC–based national policy, practice, and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all students, particularly those historically underserved, graduate from high school ready for success in college, a career, and citizenship.