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Standards of Equity and Excellence: A Deeper Dive Into Subgroup Performance



Standards of Equity and Excellence:
Are States Considering Subgroup Performance?

Susie Feliz,
Vice President for Policy and Legislative Affairs, National Urban League
Phillip Lovell,Vice President of Policy Development and Government Relations, Alliance for Excellent Education

On November 20, 2019 the National Urban League and the Alliance for Excellent Education held a Webinar on the Implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  This webinar served as a follow up to the National Urban League’s report Standards of Equity and Excellence: A Lens on ESSA State Plans, this webinar focused on how state accountability systems are, and are not, taking into account the performance of student subgroups.

ESSA requires states to disaggregate and report data on the performance of student subgroups on all indicators in their accountability systems, including achievement in reading and math, high school graduation rates, and the progress of English learners toward English language proficiency. All states are in the process of implementing their ESSA plans and the results of the first year of states’ new accountability systems are now public, including school ratings and the identification of schools for support.  As the impact of state policy choices on historically underserved students is becoming clear, it is important for stakeholders to understand the data and maintain engagement with their state and local education agencies.

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If you are unable to watch the webinar live, an archived version will be available at 1–2 business days after the event airs.

The Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) is a Washington, DC–based national policy, practice, and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all students, particularly those underperforming and those historically underserved, graduate from high school ready for success in college, work, and citizenship.

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Phillip Lovell:             Hello and welcome to today’s webinar on The Every Student Succeeds Act and how it’s working to support historically underserved students. I’m Phillip Lovell, Vice President of Policy Development and Government Relations here at The Alliance for Excellent Education. We’re please to host this webinar with the National Urban League, and specifically, Susie Feliz, Vice President for Policy and Legislative Affairs.


The Every Student Succeeds Act or ESSA, was signed into law in 2015. It has been the law of the land for four years, but we’re still at the very beginning of implementation. In fact, last school year was the first school year under the new accountability systems developed by states. Today, we’re going to review the policies within ESSA that are intended to protect historically underserved students, describe our analyses of state policy, and share some preliminary data on how state policy’s being implemented.


Fundamentally, we’re here to begin answering the question, is ESSA working for historically underserved students? We’ll get started in just a moment. But first, if you have any questions during the webinar, please submit them in the box below this video window. Take it away Susie.


Susie Feliz:                 Thanks Phillip. So what is ESSA? Let’s take a quick step back. The Every Student Succeeds Act is essentially a re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was signed by President Johnson in 1965. The ESEA, at is commonly referred to, is really the first, or really the civil rights law in education in the U.S. And it was designed to direct specific federal dollars to low-income communities for education.


The Every Student Succeeds Act was signed in 2015 to essentially replace the most recent iteration of ESEA, which was the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. And back then, Congress and the President signed into law a very important provision which was designed to hold states accountable for rigorous benchmarks and goals for student achievement. And under NCLB, was really the first time that if schools failed to meet expectations, the federal government could intervene.


ESSA on the other hand, sort of did away with some of these federal oversight provisions and gave more power back to the states and local school districts to design their own accountability systems and interventions when schools were not meeting certain benchmarks. This raised concerns from a civil rights perspective, because in the past states have not been good stewards of civil rights. And so we believe that advocacy on the ground is needed, and is really the only way to ensure that the law is implanted equitably.


So why is ESSA significant? Why the new changes in the law? Why do they matter? So as I mentioned, the Every Student Succeeds Act shifted decision making power from the federal government back to the states. It also includes serious protections for vulnerable students. So, in return for the increased flexibility states also have increased responsibility to do more in terms of their commitments to vulnerable students. And it creates important leverage points for parents, communities, and advocates to continue their push for equity and accountability for all students.


So ESSA requires that states include the performance of all subgroups in their school rating and accountability system. We believe that the department of education has approved plans that do not meet this standard. For example, there are states where black students can be performing very poorly in a school, but that school can still get an A rating because the performance of black students does not count in that school rating.


So ESSA was designed to identify and send resources to struggling schools. The law is very clear that there are three distinct categories of schools that should be identified. Those schools are called comprehensive support and improvement schools, CSI, targeted support and improvement, TSI, and additional targeted support and improvement, ATSI. The majority of state plans do not identify schools in all three categories. And the concern is that states are doing their best to identify as few schools as possible and this is a concern for us.


So in April of this year, the National Urban League produced a comprehensive report that analyzed all 37 state plans where we have Urban League affiliates, according to 12 equity indicators. So we graded them based on their commitments to equity in these 12 indicators. These indicators are goals and indicators, subgroup performance, supports and interventions for struggling schools, resource equity, equitable access to effective teachers, stakeholder engagement, breaking the school-to-prison pipeline, equitable access to early childhood learning, equitable implementation of college and career standards, out of school time learning, equitable access to high quality curricula, and peer-reporting and transparent data systems.


We reviewed these plans based on weighted formula that prioritized subgroup performance, supports and interventions for struggling schools and resource equity, because those were the three indicators that leaned furthest into the National Urban League’s work in the education space. Based on that formula and what was recorded in the plans, we ranked states into three overall categories. Excellent, which is were plans were off to a good start, making the most of opportunities to further advance equity with some areas for improvement and a small number of areas deserving urgent attention. Sufficient – these plans were adequately attentive to opportunities to further advance equity with several missed opportunities and a few areas deserving urgent attention. And then Poor were those plans that missed opportunities to further advance equity in a majority of areas with several areas needing urgent attention.


So what did we find? We found that state performance was generally Sufficient with some outliers in both the Poor and Excellent categories. Our report also found that states were generally Sufficient to Excellent in areas like college and career ready standards and breaking the school-to-prison pipeline, but many states struggled in areas like supports and interventions and subgroup performance.


So now what? Now as the data begin to come back, we are looking at state’s implementation of their plans. It’s our job to hold states accountable for their strong equity commitments and to advocate to improve upon the weak ones. Affiliate leaders in our Urban League network identified the following indicators as areas of interest: subgroup performance, supports and interventions, and resource equity. And this is the first in a series of three webinars that we’ll be hosting. The other two, supports and interventions and resource equity will be forthcoming in the next month or so. So please stay tuned. Thank you Phillip.


Phillip Lovell:             Alright, thanks very much Susie. So my presentation is going to take a look at where things are at now with the Every Student Succeeds Act and give you a sneak preview into some analyses we’re doing around the implementation of the state policy that Susie spoke about. So, let’s see here. Alright.


So, where are we at? All states have approved ESSA plans. That was the basis for the analysis that Susie described. Within these state plans are the policy descriptions around the state’s accountability systems, their school rating systems, and how they are identifying schools for improvement. Much information is included in these state plans, but it is important to be vigilant in overseeing the implementation of those plans. Already, at least 11 states have filed amendments to their plans, which makes a lot of sense. As you design a policy you will see if it’s working or not working and you might want to make some changes. But it’s important to review what those changes are if you are a member of the public wanting to ensure equity for kids.


It’s also important to oversee the implementation of this at the state level because not all states are implementing what they had originally submitted to the Department of Education. We’ve seen examples of this in Michigan and Delaware. So it’s definitely important to take a look at what’s written on the page and the policy, but also make sure that it’s actually being carried out.


So we, both here at the Alliance for Excellent Education and at the National Urban League have done analyses on subgroup inclusion in school ratings. And we’ve done analyses of subgroup inclusion – how states are identifying schools for targeted support. And what we’ve found is that in 14 states, they are including the performance of African American students, Latino students, and other subgroups in the school ratings. So when the state gives school, say an A through F, or a five-star ratings, the performance of these historically underserved kids specifically carries weight in that system.


We’ve found that in 12 states that’s not the case. And in 26 states, it’s somewhat – they’re somewhere in the middle. Some states don’t give ratings at all. Some states will use the lowest performing 25% of students instead of looking at one of the racial and ethnic groups. So we have here is some states doing what they should be doing from an equity perspective. And then in 12 states, the performance of African American students or Latino students doesn’t carry specific weight in the state’s grade. And we think that that’s a violation of the law.


The other piece of policy that we’ll highlight here is the definition of consistently under-performing subgroup that the states are using. Because it’s this definition that says whether or not a school is going to be identified for additional support if they have a low performing subgroup. If they’re a group of African American students or a group of Latino students, for example, that is consistently under performing. And what we found here is that only six states got a grade. Seventeen states we do not believe are doing what they should be doing in terms of following the law for having a definition of consistently under-performing subgroups that’s going to identify students that need additional support.


By and large, the reason is because as you might recall from Susie’s portion of the presentation, the law says that schools will be identified for both targeted support and intervention, TSI, or additional targeted support and improvement, ATSI. And many states are just using one definition and without having those two distinct definitions we’re concerned that students are going to actually need support but not receive it.


So that’s a description of the state policy. Right now, all states have released at least one year of school ratings and that was for last year. And they have identified the first cohorts of schools for comprehensive and targeted support. So these are the schools that are required to implement a comprehensive plan for improving performance or a targeted plan focused on groups of young people that are consistently under performing.


For the 2019-2020 school year, so the school year that we’re in right now, those schools that have been identified, some of them may be involved in a planning year right now to figure out what time of interventions they want to be implementing. And some may be just implementing their improvement plan without taking the planning year. States have different policies on what was permitted.


At the Alliance for Excellent Education, we receive support from the Kellogg Foundation to take a look at the implantation of the state policy that Susie and I have been talking about. So we’re looking at do school ratings really reflect the achievement and the outcomes of subgroups of students? And also we’re looking at, do states adequately identify schools with struggling subgroups for targeted support and improvement?


The first question gets at the information that parents and the public are receiving. And the second question gets to will these students actually receive additional support if they need it? The states that we are analyzing the data for are Michigan, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Those are the focus states for the Kellogg Foundation. We’re also looking at data for Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, and Washington State.


And we have some initial findings based on some preliminary data. The first of these findings is that the proportion of schools that are identified for support varies widely. There’s huge variation in just what percentage of a state’s schools are identified for support. Two, historically underserved students are much more likely than white students to attend schools that are poorly rated, to attend schools with low grades. And then number three, some states are not sending clear signals about school performance for historically underserved students. In other words, there seems to be a lack of alignment in what a school gets in its rating and whether the school is identified for support. So it’s really important to not just look at a school’s letter grade. You really have to look under the hood and find out what’s going on.


So for our first finding, the proportion schools that’s identified for support varies widely. In Florida, nearly 70% of schools are identified for support. In Michigan, fewer than 10% are identified for support. And you see for Louisiana and Ohio, the numbers differ. In Louisiana it’s more than a third. In Ohio it’s about a quarter. So we see major variation between how many schools, what percentage of schools in each state, is being identified for either a comprehensive support for the whole school or targeted support for student subgroups.


We also have seen that historically underserved students are much more likely to attend poorly rated schools. Here are some data from a few states. In Florida, we see that on average, an A school has a population of white students that’s about half white and 13.1% black. But in schools that receive an F, the average population is about 25% white and two-thirds black. So we see that African American students are disproportionately represented in schools getting an F if you compare them to the percentage of black kids getting in schools that get an A. They’re way under represented.


In Louisiana we see similar disproportionality – 66.8% on average white kids in A schools versus 21.6% of black kids in A schools. And the average F school in Louisiana is 10.1% white and 83% black. In Ohio, on average, the white population in A schools is 83.6%. On average it’s 9.3% black. But those numbers really switch when you look at the schools with an F where it’s about a third white and over half black.


The other theme that we’ve seen in this analysis thus far is that in some states schools with a struggling subgroup are identified for targeted support, but they still receive higher ratings. So for example, in Florida, 13.4% of the schools that are identified for targeted support – so this means that they have a group of historically underserved students, could be African American students, Latino students, students with disabilities – 13.4% of those schools that were identified still got an A. Thirty-one percent of those schools got a B. In Louisiana, this did not happen for A schools. No school that was identified for targeted support received an A. We think this makes a lot of sense in Louisiana. There’s policy that says that you can’t get an A if you have a subgroup that’s been identified for targeted support. In Ohio, similarly, none of the schools that are identified for targeted support received an A or a B.


Interestingly, when we look at – so this slide looks at if you’re identified for targeted support or comprehensive support, are you still getting a high letter grade? Here we’re looking at if you received a low letter grade, were you identified for support? Because if you’re low performing we want you to be identified for support so you can receive some additional funding and additional resources. In Florida, all D and F schools were identified for comprehensive support. This makes a world of sense. If the state is saying that the school’s getting a D or an F, it should be eligible to receive additional help. In Louisiana, 11.4% of F schools and nearly 20% of D schools were not identified for support. And in Ohio, just over 5% of F schools were not identified for support, and nearly half of D schools were not identified for support.


So, as an advocate for students and as an advocate of equity, what should folks be thinking about? So one is that it’s really important to understand the results of this state accountability system. This is all really complicated. So you want to know, how are schools being graded and do students of color matter? Do subgroups matter in these grades? And what’s the distribution? What percentage of schools in your state are being identified for support? You want to know if there are poorly rated schools that are not identified and why that is, because we know those are schools that are going to need help.


You also want to find out where your state is in the school improvement process. So once a school is identified for comprehensive support or for targeted support they have to develop an action plan. So you want to know, where are states in this process? Have the action plans been developed? When will they be due? How can you get involved in the process? Is there a planning year where Urban Leagues and other civil rights organizations can really engage in making sure that these improvement plans mean something and that they’re not just words on paper?


Another thing to keep in mind is that if you see policy in your state that is not what you think it should be, you can advocate for changes to the state’s system. As I said earlier, already 11 states have filed amendments for their state plans, and your state can file an amendment too. If you feel like something needs to be changed, you can use examples from other states that might have better policy. You can also start reaching out to state legislators. They’ll be going to session in January and it’s good to start learning about what’s happening with the system now so you can educate state legislators and give them the information that you want them carrying into policy when they go into session.


Of course, if you’d like additional help you can always contact us here at the Alliance for Excellent Education. We have specific resources on our website at


So, we have time for a few questions. Remember, if you have a question you can submit it in the box below this video window. And if we don’t get to in the webinar, we’ll respond to it on Twitter from @AllForEd after the webinar.


So our first question comes from Stephanie from Indiana and she asks, I want to know if the performance of African American students counts in my state. How can I find out?


A good question. So one thing that you can do is go to either the website that I just mentioned,, or you can go to the website for the report that Susie was describing. And on the websites or in Susie’s report we’ll describe whether students of color, African American students or other subgroups, count within the grading system. We have a fact sheet at for each state, and then we have a summary of all of the states so that information should be at your fingertips.


Susie Feliz:                 I was just going to add that our website is at and is our handle if you’re on Twitter and you want to add us there too. But we have an entire microsite dedicated to the reports. The no ceilings on success microsite and you’ll have an executive summary and the full report. And the way we wrote everything out is by report cards for every state. So there’s an actual report card on the state of Indiana that highlights some of the important factors for your particular state’s indicator on subgroup performance. The report card actually identifies what’s in the plan. We kind of consider it like a cheat sheet or talking points that you can use when going into meetings with your education leaders.


Phillip Lovell:             Exactly. Before going into a meeting with a state policy official these are really helpful resources. You can also print them out and give them to the policy maker for a quick overview of here’s what’s happening from an equity perspective in these states.


So Robin from New York asks, if the African American students in our schools are not performing well what can we do about it?


A very good question. This is obviously much easier to talk about than actually do something about. So something that I would suggest, Robin, is to first dive into the data and see what is happening with the students that you’re most concerned about and whether it’s a single school or a district. And then organize in your own community, share this information within other organizations, and then schedule a conversation with, whether it’s a specific school that you’re concerned about or the district, organize a meeting with the principal. Organize a meeting with the superintendent. And ask them what’s going on to support these students and how you can help.  Certainly educators have responsibility for teaching our kids, but this is a community-wide thing. As parents and as community members we all need to be engaged.


Susie Feliz:                 The National Urban League’s report evaluated every state’s plan along 12 equity indicators. I mentioned previously that you can use these report cards as talking points because they go into what a state is doing to ensure that all students count in the accountability systems. Or how are they improving teacher equity or resource equity? How are they ensuring that funds are equitably distributed throughout schools across the state? Or you can find out what the state has planned for early education and their early childhood learning indicator can basically give you a thumbnail sketch of how much a priority early childhood funding is for that particular state.


So I would also encourage you to go onto our website and pull up your state report card and see what the state has committed in each of these equity areas. And where we rated the state poorly, I would argue those are – that’s an opportunity for you to share with you education official, “Hey look, we read this report that the National Urban League did. Alliance for Education has the same research that essentially shows that the state has not properly invested in early childhood education or teachers, or in the dollars and resources that my child’s school has. So, what will you do state leader to improve these inputs, these indicators so that our students can actually do better?” Because the performance of our students is sort of a factor of disinvestment in our schools and our school systems. What our report tries to do is shine a light on how committed the state is to improving those investments.


Phillip Lovell:             No doubt. Definitely. Okay I think we have time for about one more question here. This is from Jason from Virginia. I’d like to share information on school performance with colleagues in my community. Where can I find this information?


This is an excellent question. So one might think that the information on school performance would be available on a school’s website. Sometimes that might be the case, but actually you need to go to the State Department of Education website and search there. This information is findable, but you may have to spend some time figuring out. Especially got get down to subgroup data, so how the performance of subgroups are doing. And some school and district report cards that are available on the state website, sometimes this is fairly easy to find and sometimes it might take a little time. But you can always contact us for some help and if there are enough people that are interested for a specific state, we might be able to add it to our list of states that we’re doing the analysis for, which will hopefully provide some helpful information for you.


So, I think that’s about all the time that we have for today. Thank you very much for joining us. If you’ve missed any of today’s webinar or you want to share it with colleagues you can access the archived video from the webinar at For more information on ESSA, you can always contact us. Our e-mail addresses are at the bottom of the screen. And as we’ve said we have a lot of information at our websites, also available at the bottom of the screen.


I want to thank Susie for joining me today and it’s always a pleasure to be with you. Thanks again and have a great day.



[End of Audio]


Categories: Equity, Every Student Succeeds Act

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