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When Equity Is Optional

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.

Watch our event reflecting on five years of ESSA implementation, featuring Deborah Delisle, John B. King, Jr., Marc Morial, and Janet Murguía.

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.

November 18, 2020

Publication | Accountability and Support, Every Student Succeeds Act

When Equity Is Optional: How State Choices Affect Ratings and Identification for Support under ESSA

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.
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November 18, 2020

Publication | Accountability and Support, Every Student Succeeds Act

When Equity Is Optional: Students of Color More Likely to Attend Low-Rated Schools

School ratings can reveal disparities in the quality of education different groups of students receive. Black and Latino students were more likely to attend low-rated schools than White students.
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November 18, 2020

Publication | Accountability and Support, Every Student Succeeds Act, High Schools

When Equity Is Optional: 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 were identified varied widely.
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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.

Arizona Connecticut Florida Indiana Louisiana Michigan Mississippi New Mexico Ohio Washington

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.

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Anne Hyslop

Director of Policy Development

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Ziyu Zhou

Policy Analyst

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