Trump Administration

Will States Hold Their Schools Accountable Under ESSA? A New Report Sheds Some Light

The ever-reliable edu-wonks over at Bellwether Education Partners, along with the trusted folks at Collaborative for Student Success (CSS), have put together a comprehensive review of the 17 school accountability plans recently submitted by states to the federal Department of Education. Every state is required by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to submit a plan for review, and the plans are set to be implemented as early as this fall. These first 17 states give us an opportunity to see how states are thinking of accountability under the new law, and the Bellwether/CSS report is more than just a compliance review. It takes a look at how states are prioritizing student success and identifies the strengths and weaknesses of each plan. Given the jargon-laden nature of the plans, this sort of analysis is not only important for those working in the education policy world—it’s crucial for parents and educators too. Furthermore, we know that plans like these are never perfect. No matter how much effort policymakers put into the plans, students still fall through the cracks—even more reason to take a thorough look at how schools will be held accountable under the Trump administration. The report finds many “bright spots” in the plans. For instance, states will be looking at the results for more than just math and reading. Many states have added science to their systems, as well as indicators for attendance, physical education, art and school climate. States are also doing a better job this time around with measuring college- and career-readiness, and have improved their stances on giving credit to schools that demonstrate how much progress their students have made over time, as opposed to focusing on whether students are meeting prescribed academic benchmarks. That said, there are definitely “opportunities for improvement.” In particular, states weren’t clear about how their systems would work in practice. The questions of “how will schools be held accountable for performance” and “how will schools be identified for performance” are crucial questions to answer when creating an accountability system, and far too many states weren’t able to provide specifics on how they’d accomplish these important tasks. Given that ESSA moves a lot of responsibility for holding schools accountable to the states, this is particularly troubling. Without a strong and involved federal agency pushing states to demand their schools get results for all students, even more children will be “left behind.”
Photo courtesy of Bellwether/CSS.
Valentina Payne
Valentina Payne joined Bellwether Education Partners in 2021 as chief of staff to Andy Rotherham on the External Relations team. Prior to Bellwether, she spent seven years at brightbeam, where she most recently served as its chief growth officer, overseeing operations, finance, fundraising, and strategic growth of the organization.

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