Results from Early ESSA Implementation
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gave states more flexibility in designing school accountability systems, while retaining a set of “equity guardrails” to ensure these systems prioritize the needs of historically underserved students. Unfortunately, data on ESSA implementation across ten states show that flexibility and equity are often in conflict. Under ESSA, the state in which students live matters a great deal.
Five years after ESSA’s passage, it is clear that 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 states we examined, students of color are much more likely to attend low-rated schools.
The Latest In This Series
Our analyses—using data from the first year of ESSA implementation in Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio, and Washington—find that states have used ESSA’s flexibility to take dramatically different approaches to school ratings and school improvement, often at the expense of students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.
Explore the analyses below, or scroll to the bottom of this page for more detail on our findings.
When Equity Is Optional: Students of Color More Likely to Attend Low-Rated Schools
When Equity Is Optional: Low-Graduation-Rate High Schools and the 67% Threshold
Learn More About the States
As part of our When Equity Is Optional series, we developed one-page state fact sheets analyzing each state’s school ratings and lists of identified comprehensive and targeted support schools from the first year of ESSA implementation. We found that ratings do not always accurately reflect the performance of historically underserved students or whether the state has identified a school for support. And in several states, many schools with low ratings were overlooked to receive additional help from their state and school district. Find your state below.
Learn More About Our Findings
Click the buttons for each topic below for more about the findings from our When Equity Is Optional series.
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. Black and Latino students were more likely to attend low-rated schools than White students.
School Ratings and Identification
How State Choices Affect Ratings and Identification for Support under ESSA
The likelihood a school was identified for support varied widely by state. Some states identified half, or more, of the public schools they serve, while others identified fewer than 5% of schools. While some states ensured that the lowest-rated schools were consistently identified for support under ESSA, other states made choices that resulted in low-rated schools being overlooked. As a result, students in low-performing schools—who are much more likely to be students of color or from low-income families—in different states have very different odds of receiving the support they need to improve.
Low-Graduation-Rate High Schools
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 were identified varied 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. Reporting a four-year graduation rate below the 67% threshold did not guarantee a high school would be identified.