Shortly after the 2015-2016 school year began, Congress passed and the president signed legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Now known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the law reshaped the relationship between the federal government and states on a range of educational policy issues. ESSA created a framework within which states can take greater ownership of key policy areas such as educational standards, assessments, and accountability.
One of the key assumptions of this greater ownership is that states will be unleashed pent-up creativity to solve educational problems and address challenges. Rather than a one-size-fits-all model, each state will be free to devise and implement an approach (within ESSA parameters) that makes the most sense and leads to the greatest improvement. This opportunity, however, is not without challenges.
Here are four criteria that can be used to begin the process of adding a college and career ready component to an accountability system. A state that acts on these four criteria would be going beyond basic compliance with ESSA to create a system more truly capable of improving college and career readiness and success.
Criterion 1: The accountability system contains a wider range of indicators.
- Identify a broad set of potential measures
- Categorize these into those addressing learning context (e.g., qualified teachers, orderly learning environment, quality learning materials, physical spaces conducive to learning, positive school climate), learning processes (e.g., quality curriculum, quality instructional delivery techniques, quality professional development, quality leadership, parental involvement), and learning outcomes (e.g., test scores, graduation rates)
- Consider additional less traditional learning outcome measures (e.g., performance tasks such as research papers, completion of college applications, measures of speaking and listening in the classroom, employability tests, CTE courses taken, college courses taken in high school).
- Consider measures of social emotional learning, or success skills, as reporting measures only (e.g., persistence, goal focus, self-management, aspiration level, engagement).
- Determine which aspects of college and career readiness are addressed by the measures.
- Identify plausible connections among them. Which learning context elements and which learning processes might help improve which desired outcomes?
- Ensure that all outcomes are linked with one or more of these sets of connections.
- Examine these connections to ascertain if schools are able to use the information from them to improve systematically.
Criterion 2: The accountability system data helps students and schools improve college and career readiness.
- Expand the state technical advisory committee (TAC) to include individuals who are knowledgeable about multiple measures and college and career readiness and success, or create a new panel to review the multiple measure accountability system.
- Assess the information contained in the reporting and accountability categories to determine its usefulness to students as they prepare for college and careers. Then assess the information to determine if it can be used by schools to improve performance. Doing so emphasizes that all information needs to be actionable at the level of practice.
- From this set of potential indicators, rate indicators based on: usefulness, fairness, equitability, current availability, feasibility to collect, and potential use to postsecondary institutions and employers.
- Select an accountability indicator and one or more reporting measures for inclusion in the accountability system, with a goal of including other indicators and measures over time. These can be used to meet the ESSA requirement for a school quality indicator.
- List additional accountability indicators and reporting measures for potential inclusion in the future to signal the state’s intention to develop a comprehensive multiple measures system over time.
Criterion 3: The statewide data systems contains more information on college and career readiness than test scores.
- Determine the types of information that would be most valuable for gauging college and career readiness and success. Examples include
- information on high school course-taking patterns
- the number of students taking college-preparatory courses by subgroup
- course quality indicators to ascertain the challenge level of all courses
- participation rates in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs
- participation rates by subgroup in college admissions exams (e.g., ACT/SAT)
- participation in dual enrollment program enrollments and results,
- scores on tests of workplace readiness such as WorkKeys.
- Consider which indicators would be statewide in nature and which would be optional to be applied at the district or school level
- Identify the logistical issues associated with collecting this information and develop a plan to collect key indicators and then to add measures to the statewide database over time.
- Create the ability to incorporate a “wild card” indicator that will change over time as state policy goals and schools change. For example, CTE course participation may become more important in the near future, and states may want to include a new measure related to CTE courses. Having a designated spot for potential new indicators signals educators that the indicators system is dynamic and can be expected to evolve over time.
Criterion 4: The accountability system assigns weights to each indicator.
- Distinguish which indicators are for reporting purposes only and which have stakes associated with them as well as which are ESSA requirements.
- Ensure that college and career readiness accountability indicators align with state goals.
- Develop weightings for the accountability measures that total 100%. The points could be weighted more heavily initially in favor of more conventional and familiar indicators such as test scores with a smaller weighting for newer indicators such as course-taking patterns or measures of social-emotional learning.
- Review the weightings to ensure they meet ESSA requirements, then determine the degree to which they contribute to improving the conditions of learning as defined in ESSA and adjust accordingly.
- Include a mix of context and process measures as reporting categories, not high-stakes accountability indicators. Examples include orderly learning environment, systematic professional development program, quality of teaching force. These are the prerequisite actions that lead to changes in outcomes (e.g., improved college and career readiness).
- Include locally-selected reporting categories as non-weighted elements. Use them for informational purposes only to reflect a district or school’s goals and their unique programs.
Following these criteria and action steps will lead to systemic improvements by linking accountability indicators directly to college and career readiness. Using college and career readiness as the reference point for a successful school and school system provides a beacon that can guide all schools, including low performing schools, on a path toward higher performance focused on a tangible and important outcome.
In such a system, reading and math scores become a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Other indicators help explain why students are performing as they are and where they stand relative to the ultimate goal of having them ready to keep learning beyond high school.