Evaluating State Accountability Systems Under the ESEA

The Purpose of this Tool

The purpose of Title I of the ESEA is to provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education and to close achievement gaps (§1001). State accountability systems under Title I support meeting this purpose by working to improve student achievement and school success (§1111(c)(4)). A state’s accountability system is a key lever for school improvement and improving student outcomes. Each state’s accountability system should focus on key indicators of student outcomes and achievement.

Each state’s accountability system should support its overall theory of action for improving student outcomes for all students and closing achievement gaps for groups of students who are behind, including students in schools identified for comprehensive or targeted support and improvement.

State accountability systems should be a living system; that is, an SEA should continue to evaluate whether the system is working as intended and supporting continued school improvement. While it is important to have stability in the system, to provide schools and districts a clear set of expectations and metrics, ongoing evaluation and refinement will be needed to identify strategies for continuous improvement. The purpose of this tool is to provide a process for SEA staff to engage in this type of reflection, where SEA accountability specialists and other SEA staff can:

  • Review their state’s accountability system.
  • Document areas where their state’s accountability system is and, if applicable, is not functioning as intended.
  • Identify results to inform communications with stakeholders about their state’s accountability system, including the strengths of the system to date.
  • Identify data to inform needed adjustments to their state’s accountability system.

As a result of completing this tool, a state should be able to answer the following types of questions:

  • How clear is our state’s theory of action?
  • How well does our state’s system for annually meaningfully differentiating schools communicate results to the public?
  • Are the results of our state’s system for annual meaningful differentiation of schools aligned with the goals of our state’s accountability system?
  • How do we know if our state’s system of annual meaningful differentiation has identified the “right” low-performing schools for support and improvement (i.e., schools for comprehensive or targeted support and improvement)?
  • Are the indicators in our state’s system of annual meaningful differentiation interacting as intended?
  • Should we explore any indicators in greater detail?
  • What, if any, are the unintended consequences of our accountability system?
  • Is our reporting approach helping us achieve the intended outcomes of our state’s accountability system?

States’ experiences with accountability systems over the past several decades have shown that annual meaningful differentiation and identification of low-performing schools is only the first phase in a comprehensive system designed to build local capacity through support and guidance, and that the first phase alone is insufficient to drive improvement. Reflecting on how a state’s accountability system functions after the state runs its system of annual meaningful differentiation and identifies schools can help SEA staff consider how the accountability system indicators align with state supports for low-performing schools (e.g., coaching, evaluation) as well as policy incentives.

This tool is designed to help state educational agency (SEA) staff reflect on how their state’s accountability system under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), is functioning and (where applicable) identify strategies for continuous improvement. The tool provides SEA staff with a process to evaluate their state’s accountability system. SEA staff can complete the tool in its entirety or complete selected modules to target specific components of their plan. This tool is intended to spur SEA staff’s considerations for evaluating their accountability systems; a complete evaluation is likely to take significant time and effort beyond the reflections articulated in the tool. To read more about the purpose of the tool, click on the “The Purpose of This Tool” header above.

The Organization of this Tool

This tool includes seven modules that SEA accountability staff can use to reflect on how the state’s accountability system is functioning. The modules are shown in Figure 1 below.

Diagram showing the Progression of Modules 1-7

Module 1: Theory of Action Module 2A: State’s System of Annual Meaningful Differentiation (AMD) Module 2B: Indicator Interaction in the State’s System of Annual Meaningful Differentiation (AMD) Module 3A-3E: Indicators Module 4: Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) Schools Module 5: Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI) and Additional Targeted Support and Improvement (ATSI) Schools Module 6: Reporting Module 7: State Support System for Identified Schools

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