Lessons for Broadening School Accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act

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Offering students a quality education is a prerequisite for an economy that increases opportunity, prosperity, and growth for all. Education policies that promote learning among all students, and the efficient use of resources, are key inputs toward that end. The shift toward accountability policies for schools over the past two decades—first introduced in some states, and made national under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), signed into law in 2002—has been an important part of these efforts. Under NCLB, test scores and graduation rates improved, especially for children who had been low-achieving.

The new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), makes changes aimed at improving upon NCLB. ESSA requires state accountability systems to annually measure five indicators that assess progress toward the state’s long-term educational goals, with a particular focus on certain student subgroups: those who are economically disadvantaged, minorities, children with disabilities, and English language learners. The first three indicators— academic achievement measured in an annual assessment, an additional academic measure such as student growth and graduation rates for secondary schools, and an additional academic indicator for presecondary schools—are related to academics, and are holdovers from NCLB. The fourth indicator is a new requirement for the state-wide system, holding them accountable for improvement in the English language proficiency of English language learners.

In this strategy paper, we summarize lessons learned from NCLB and how they relate to accountability under ESSA, particularly states’ choice for the required new fifth indicator of “student success or school quality.” We then argue that chronic absenteeism is a good candidate for adoption as the fifth indicator, as it is a valuable indicator of “school quality or student success” and performs well with regard to lessons learned under NCLB. Next, we analyze whether chronic absenteeism fulfills the statutory and proposed regulatory requirements for the fifth indicator.

Explore rates of chronic absenteeism in the accompanying interactive state map.