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Report Grades ESSA Plans on How They Treat Parents and High-Poverty Schools

Will parents be able to understand their child's school's performance under the Every Student Succeeds Act? And will schools with students from difficult socioeconomic backgrounds get a fair shake?

Those are two key questions that folks at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute set out to find answers for in a new report. In an analysis of the 17 plans turned in so far, Fordham President Michael Petrilli and Editorial Director Brandon Wright based their answers on three main questions:

  • How clear are school ratings are to parents, educators, and the general public?
  • Do the plans push schools to focus on all students, not just those furthest behind? and
  • Are schools are treated fairly, particularly those with a large share of students in poverty, and judged in part by academic growth, not just achievement?

Fordham is often identified with right-leaning education policy positions, such as support for school choice. On ESSA, the think tank has also focused on high-achieving students, and advocated for states to have flexibility in implementing the law. 

So what did Fordham find? Overall, the report said states were in large part doing a decent job in those areas and moving away from negative aspects of ESSA's predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act. "Although many states included elements in their school rating systems that we don't love, we are encouraged that seven of the proposals are either good or great by our reckoning and that only one misses the mark entirely," the report states.

Here's how they rated each plan on each of the three fronts:


On whether high-poverty schools are treated fairly, for example, Wright said that states' plans that include growth reward teachers for strong performance in the classrooms, instead of punishing them for working with students from impoverished backgrounds like NCLB often did. States that based at least 50 percent of ratings on growth got the "strong" ratings from Fordham.

"Because it was an achievement-only approach, it was unfair to high-poverty schools, because achievement is so based on prior achievement," Wright said of NCLB.

The report gave high marks to states that used mechanisms like A-F grades to rate schools. But what about states like California, which appear set to use a "dashboard" approach to accountability that doesn't give schools a single final score? Wright said that ultimately, his view is that dashboard approaches "overwhelm a lot of consumers" with too much information and not enough clarity.

Read the full report here:

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