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A Look at How Some States Want to Handle School Ratings in ESSA Plans



One of the most closely watched issues in states' Every Students Succeeds Act plans will be how they plan to assign ratings to schools. Thanks to several states that turned in their plans by the April 3 deadline, we have an early idea of where states on headed on this.

One important decision is whether to issue schools single, summative ratings (like an A-F school rating), or use a "dashboard" approach that displays how a school is doing on different indicators, but doesn't give the school an ultimate rating. 

You might remember that how to handle school ratings was one of the most contentious issues in the development of the now-discarded Obama ESSA accountability rules. The Obama Education Department initially wanted to require states to assign a single, summative rating to all schools. But Republicans in Congress and others objected, arguing that this was not a requirement in ESSA itself and was an unfair, onerous requirement. 

You can read more about the plans from eight states plus the District of Columbia below. We are also waiting on the full state plan from New Mexico, which the U.S. Department of Education has said was submitted. And further down the line we'll get more plans from states that have submitted their ESSA plans to governors for a 30-day review. (Governors don't have veto power over these plans, but ESSA says they have to get a chance to read them before their education departments submit them to Washington.) 

Need a refresher about ESSA? Click here for our explainer. And check out a video version of our ESSA explainer here:

Want to jump right to a state? Click on that state in the drop-down menu below:

ConnecticutThe Constitution State wants to issue a summative score based on a 0-100 index. A school's score on that index would be based on 12 different indicators, ranging from academic achievement and chronic absenteeism to access to the arts and physical education.

Need a pie chart to help you identify those indicators, and their relative weight in school ratings? Connecticut's ESSA plan has you covered:

ConnecticutESSAPlan.PNGDelawareThe state plans to use a summative index score in order to create an "overall text-based identification" system for schools. 

District of Columbia: D.C. plans to use the "School Transparency and Reporting" (STAR) system to provide annual summative ratings for schools. Each school would be placed into one of five performance tiers. The different cut points for these tiers, according to the plan, could be "up to 19.9 percent, 20.0 to 39.9 percent, 40.0 to 59.9 percent, 60.0 to 79.9 percent, and 80.0 to 100.0 percent" of the score available to schools. 

IllinoisThe Land of Lincoln is proposing four tiers for rating schools:

  1. Exemplary School: A school that has no underperforming subgroups, a graduation rate of greater than 67 percent, and whose performance is in the top 10 percent of schools statewide.
  2. Commendable School: A school that has no underperforming subgroups, a graduation rate above 67 percent, and whose performance is not in the top 10 percent of schools statewide.
  3. Underperforming School: A school in which one or more subgroups performs at or below the level of the "all students" group in the lowest 5 percent of Title I schools.
  4. Lowest-Performing School: A school that is in the lowest-performing 5 percent of Title I schools in Illinois and those high schools that have a graduation rate of 67 percent or less.

Louisiana: The state would give A-F school grades, based on an index score ranging from 0-150. The ratings system would shift in 2021 and again in 2024. 

MaineThe state wants to use a four-tier rating system similar to one the state already uses, with ratings from "exceeds expectations" to "requires review for supports."

MassachusettsBased on an index of 1-100, a school would fall into one of six performance tiers—the Bay State has yet to assign names to these tiers. The state said it hasn't yet determined the exact ranges of index scores associated with different tiers. But the state included an "example" of the score tiers in which the second tier would be the largest in terms of numerical score range, since schools with index scores between 50 and 89 would fall into that tier:


For more on the state's approach to accountability and school turnarounds, you can read this Quality Counts 2016 story on Massachusetts from the Alyson half of Politics K-12. 

MichiganThe state has laid out two options that are both iterations of an A-F school grading system. One would provide a final, summative grade for each school, while the other would grade different components of the accountability system but not produce a final letter grade. In addition, the state is also contemplating a dashboard accountability system that would be some combination of the state's six accountability indicators. 

NevadaSchools would receive an index score on a scale of 1-100, and an associated rating using one to five stars. Nevada notes that it "has a long history of rating schools on 1- to 5-stars [that] has been well received and understood by our stakeholders."

New Jersey: The Garden State would use a summative score to rate schools. Here's a sample of how the state would determine the score for a high school:


New MexicoAs it has for the past five years for state accountability, New Mexico plans to use A-F school grades to rate schools in its ESSA plan.

Tennessee: The state will use an A-F school rating system, which is also required in state law. The state said it determined that its ESSA accountability system should be aligned with what's in state law. This accountability model has been a popular approach in some states in recent years, although the A-F approach to accountability has lost some of its luster recently

VermontVermont wants to use color-coded targets to show four different ratings for schools on individual indicators. Here's what that would look like:


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