RELEASE: As States Navigate Increased Flexibility Under ESSA, New CAP Report Offers a 50-State Analysis of School Accountability Systems

New Center for American Progress analysis launches with an interactive map that readers can use to compare school accountability systems across states. The report is part of a new CAP series on implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.

Washington, D.C. — As states navigate a landscape of increased flexibility under the new K-12 education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, a new report from the Center for American Progress offers a 50-state analysis of school accountability systems and provides a starting point for states to develop strong systems. The report finds that while the majority of states have surpassed the requirements of the previous law—known as No Child Left Behind—nearly all states will need to make adjustments to comply fully with ESSA. CAP’s report offers recommendations to states as they make changes to their accountability systems under the new flexibility granted by ESSA and serves as a resource for policymakers and stakeholders as they consider which indicators to include in these systems.

As a companion piece to the report, CAP launched an interactive map that readers can use to compare accountability systems across states. The report is part of a new series from CAP—intended to serve as a resource to state and local education policymakers—on the implementation of ESSA. Future products in this series will examine, among other topics, specific school accountability indicators, policies to support school turnaround, and evidence-based interventions and supports for schools.

“Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, states have additional flexibility when it comes to designing school accountability systems—but are still tasked with making sure that every student is ready for college and a career,” said Carmel Martin, Executive Vice President for Policy at CAP. “This report will help states understand what kind of measures their colleagues across the country are using, but states should not be limited by current options. They have the opportunity to build upon and improve their current systems with indicators that more fully capture student achievement and overall school success.”

Examining statewide accountability systems across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the report’s authors organized accountability measures into seven main categories of indicators: achievement indicators; student growth indicators; English language acquisition indicators; early warning indicators; persistence indicators; college- and career-ready indicators; and other indicators. They found that, on average, states include a total of 11 indicators across some or all indicator categories in elementary, middle, and high school accountability systems, with a minimum of four indicators and a maximum of 26 indicators. The CAP analysis also quantifies how states weight accountability indicators to determine a school’s overall rating or grade.

Beginning in August 2016, states will transition from No Child Left Behind and Elementary and Secondary Education Act waiver flexibility to ESSA and will have an additional year to implement their new accountability systems, which must be in place by the 2017-18 school year. The authors found that while the majority of states are on track to comply with ESSA’s requirements in this time frame, nearly all states still need to incorporate a measure of English language acquisition into their accountability systems and ensure that subgroup performance is considered for all indicators in order to comply fully with the law. Moreover, many states can now include new indicators of school quality and student success in their new systems to move beyond exclusively test-score-based measures of achievement.

As states plan for this transition, CAP recommends that they take the following steps:

  • States should set a vision for their accountability systems and be purposeful about the incentives they create when selecting system indicators. All states, for example, should set as a clear objective that all students graduate from high school ready for college and a career. States must then select indicators to quantify this goal and gauge progress, while being mindful of the actions and opportunities that these measures encourage schools to prioritize.
  • States must weigh the trade-offs between simplicity and complexity to create a tailored yet comprehensive system of accountability. States should be thoughtful in designing systems that capture a complete picture of student success and strike a balance between straightforward and nuanced accountability. States should be comprehensive but should not dilute their systems with unnecessary measures.
  • States, districts, and schools should increase transparency and clarity of school accountability and rating methodology for communities and families. States’ accountability systems align with federal requirements and state priorities, but they serve a much greater purpose than compliance. They also must clearly communicate to communities and families which measures determine a school’s performance rating in order to enable stakeholders to make informed choices and better advocate for students.

Click here to read “Making the Grade: A 50-State Analysis of School Accountability Systems” by Carmel Martin, Scott Sargrad, and Samantha Batel.

Click here to view the “Making the Grade” interactive map.

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, contact Allison Preiss at or 202.478.6331.