ESSA 101: New Accountability Measures

How to plan for Title I school quality measures such as student engagement and school climate.

May 2016, Volume 39, Issue 9

Educators have long wrangled with the misguided “one-size-fits-all” accountability measures that were the hallmark of the No Child Left Behind Act. Reauthorized as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the new law features a provision that requires states to build a new school quality indicator under Title I. This will allow eligible schools to show a broader set of individual features and accomplishments to meet the federal law’s accountability requirements. And although these accountability provisions are technical and complicated, NAESP is pleased that ESSA empowers principals and other practitioners to provide input on accountability and assessment policies.

What’s different about it?
This new school quality indicator is a welcome departure from the No Child Left Behind Act’s “one-size-fits-all” test-based accountability. ESSA is, overall, a sharp turn away from federal intervention, giving much of the authority for accountability and decision-making back to states and local school districts. However, by law, states and districts are required to draft new ESSA plans. As part of the planning process, principals and other stakeholders must be afforded the opportunity to weigh-in on any new “school quality” metrics.

What does it mean for my school?
Under ESSA, states must hold schools accountable for student performance in English/language arts (ELA) and mathematics, plus a second academic indicator, which could include:

  • Student proficiency on annual assessments in ELA and math;
  • A second academic indicator, that may include growth in ELA and math (in elementary and middle school);
  • Progress in achieving English language proficiency;
  • High school graduation rates (if applicable);
  • And at least one measure of school quality or student success.

States are then required to disaggregate these indicators (except for the English language proficiency indicator) by individual subgroups of students, including those from low-income families, by racial/ethnic groups, those with disabilities, and English-language learners.

For school quality measures, ESSA directs states to build criteria based on factors such as:

  • Student engagement;
  • Educator engagement;
  • Student access to and completion of advanced coursework;
  • Postsecondary readiness; or
  • School climate and safety.

How will I meet this new requirement?
Schools are required to show at least one measurable example of school quality that allows for meaningful differentiation of school performance. An example could be a school climate survey or statistics on student engagement.

What’s next?
States will begin developing criteria for the school quality measures, and ESSA requires state officials to consult with principals and local educators to design the most effective strategies.

This change will not take place until the 2017-2018 school year; school districts can expect to continue with current law through 2016-2017 school year.

So what should I do now?
In the meantime, NAESP encourages principals to identify measures related to school quality, educator engagement, or school climate and safety metrics. Principals should speak out on the issues they think are most important for the state’s accountability system.

  • Identify which measures would be most suitable to your state’s accountability system related to school quality.
  • Review how your state is collecting stakeholder input on ESSA plans and then register your feedback by requesting to participate in a meeting, or providing written or verbal comments.
  • Contact your superintendent to discuss how the district is moving forward on ESSA plans and suggest meeting with principals to gather the school leadership perspective.

Click here for more information about ESSA implementation, including a copy of the full law, summaries, and archived webinars.


  • Passed in fall of 2015, ESSA is the latest iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
  • Title I is the largest program under ESSA, funded at $14.9 billion in fiscal 2016, and ESSA authorizes annual increases to $16.2 billion by fiscal year 2020.
  • Principals should note that the law dramatically shifts authority of our nation’s system of public education back to state and local control.
  • The new law gives principals the opportunity to weigh in on the formation of state polices and procedures that directly impact the local schools.
  • The law eliminates the adequate yearly progress (AYP) measure and directs states to create an index of accountability that focuses on long-term goals.
  • The law will go into effect August 2016, and allows for an 18-month transition period.

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