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Twelve States Do Not Count Students of Color in School Ratings

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September 24, 2018 04:37 pm


The nation’s main education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), is a civil rights law that ensures states provide all children with equal access to a high-quality education—provided states carry out the law faithfully. Unfortunately, many states are shirking their responsibilities around two of the law’s most important provisions for historically underserved groups of students, according to a new analysis by the Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed). All4Ed finds that twelve states do not include subgroups of students in school ratings, and sixteen states risk under-identifying schools with consistently underperforming student subgroups for targeted support. Is your state one of them?

Under ESSA, states must hold schools accountable for the outcomes of “all students” and subgroups of students such as African American students, students from low-income families, and English language learners. This provision is designed to ensure that (1) the performance of these groups is clear and understandable to parents and the public and (2) schools are required to take steps to improve when student subgroups are underperforming. For example, imagine a high school with a 90 percent overall graduation rate, but only a 60 percent graduation rate for its low-income students and a 65 percent graduation rate for its African American students. Would you give that school an “A” rating? Of course not. But some states do. And should this school be required to take action to improve the graduation rates of these students? Absolutely. But in some states, schools like these will not necessarily be identified for support.

According to All4Ed’s analysis, twelve states do not include student subgroups in all school ratings, in conflict with ESSA’s requirements. In those states, it is plausible that the high school in the example above could earn an “A” for its overall 90 percent graduation rate because the state ignores the performance of the groups of students with low graduation rates when assigning the school’s rating. States that follow this practice receive a red rating from All4Ed in the graph below. An additional twenty-three states either do not include some of the student subgroups ESSA requires in school ratings or risk obscuring the performance of student subgroups in reporting on school quality. Only seventeen states earn a green rating from All4Ed for ensuring that the performance of all student subgroups counts in school ratings. That represents only one-third of the fifty-two ESSA plans, including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, that All4Ed examined.


Click to view the graph.

States’ ESSA plans also fall short when it comes to identifying schools with low-performing subgroups of students for extra support and resources. Under ESSA, if a school has a group of students that performs at a level below students in the bottom 5 percent of Title I schools in the state—a very low level—the state must identify that school for additional targeted support (ATS). States also must identify any school with a “consistently underperforming” subgroup of students, a term each state defines, for targeted support and improvement (TSI).

These are two distinct groups of schools in the law that come with different implications for schools identified as part of each group. For example, schools identified for ATS are required to implement a more robust improvement plan and may become eligible for whole-school turnaround if they do not improve.

Even though ESSA creates these two distinct groups, sixteen states have a definition for TSI that is not meaningfully different from ATS or does not comply with ESSA, indicated by the red bar in the graph below. Only six states use a definition of consistently underperforming that provides support to a subgroup of students when it struggles on only one or two measures, rather than requiring that group of students to struggle across all measures in the state’s accountability system before receiving support.

definition of underperforming

Click to view the graph.

Think of it this way. When you have your car inspected and a problem is detected with the brakes, the mechanic does not decline to make that repair because the engine, tires, and suspension are all fine. The mechanic fixes the failing brakes. But that is not the approach most states take when identifying schools with low-performing subgroups under ESSA for TSI. In all but six states in All4Ed’s analysis, states look for low subgroup performance across every indicator in the accountability system before assigning support. That means a student subgroup may need to perform poorly on as many as a dozen indicators, or more, in some states before receiving support, as opposed to states where low student subgroup performance on a subset of indicators, including important measures like academic achievement and high school graduation rates, can trigger needed interventions. That approach is like a mechanic saying your car is fine because most of its parts are performing well—even if your brakes need fixing.

Looking across both policies, the picture for student subgroup inclusion is even bleaker. Only three states (Colorado, Georgia, and Nevada) do a good job rating schools on the performance of all students, including student subgroups, AND appropriately defining schools with groups of students in need of intervention.

Want to see how your state fares? Download All4Ed’s analysis and state-by-state grades and learn more about your state’s ESSA policies at

Anne Hyslop is assistant director for policy development and government relations at All4Ed.

Featured Image by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.

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