ESSA Indicators


As we continue to dive into the ESSA discussion, we might all agree that the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) can be complex. There are many facets to the new[ish] federal law that allow states to dictate more of their accountability than under the previous No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. ESSA provides states with broad discretion in establishing their own terms regarding accountability for how their schools spend federal funds.  Despite this surprising level of autonomy, ESSA does require states to establish their federal accountabilities along similar parameters.

For example, each state must determine how they will meet the same four or more Implementation Indicators (or benchmarks by which they will be held accountable in demonstrating student achievement). The first four are generally the same for each state and the 5th or more give more flexibility. All of the states sent their proposed federal accountability plans in for comment and approval throughout 2017 and early 2018.

Schools and districts will be held accountable for adhering to their states approved accountability plans that include these indicators.

Before we explore these questions, we need to take a step back and discuss what an accountability plan is to better understand how indicators play a crucial role in the daily life of administrators.


How do ESSA State Accountability Plans & Indicators Work Together?

Federal education dollars comprise anywhere from 5% to 25% of a school's operating budget and often account for a majority of the schools discretionary spending.  Under NCLB, schools reported directly to the Federal DOE regarding how they spent their federal dollars. ESSA shifted the responsibility of student achievement fully back into the hands of the state bringing all accountability for the spending of state and federal funding under state DOEs. States are now responsible for submitting yearly ESSA State accountability reports and updated plans that demonstrate “ambitious state-designed long-term goals … [and] annual meaningful differentiation.”

This means that ultimately, each state designs their own accountability plan for both state and federal funding and holds schools and districts accountable for the student gain achieved using both forms of funding.

As you can imagine, with states beating the drum of what they want to be held accountable for, there are a lot of variances among the plans being submitted by each state. States are determining what and how they will be holding schools and districts within their state accountable for student performance and academic growth (beyond test scores), and how they will develop turn-around plans for schools and districts that are considered low-performing.  The states then determine how funding from both federal and state coffers will be used to achieve these plans.

Allowing states to create their own plans for federal funding opens the door for a lot of diverse and subjective ideas of what student growth and performance is.

How does each state define achievement?

What does that look like to them?

How does a state like Connecticut determine student achievement compared to another state like Ohio?

Because of this transfer of discretion and accountability for federal funding back to the states, as well as the unavoidable subjectivity, ESSA has established indicators that each state-created accountability plan must include.  They must also demonstrate how each of these indicators will be ‘weighed’ in their final analysis.  While states can determine how much weight to give these accountability components, ESSA is explicit in stating that academic indicators (in contrast to non-academic indicators) must be provided a more “substantial weight” towards the total aggregated achievement scores.


What are ESSA Indicators?

All ESSA state accountability plans must include a similar set of indicators that describe how they will be held accountable for student achievement. That means that there is a minimum number of indicators that every accountability plan must incorporate. This minimum includes:

  1. Proficiency in reading and math;
  2. Graduation rates for high schools;
  3. English language proficiency;
  4. Student growth or another indicator that is valid, reliable and statewide (*For elementary and middle schools.);
  5. At least one other indicator of school quality or success.

ESSA Indicators Graphic


This last (or fifth) indicator is the most flexible when it comes to states defining what represents ‘school quality’ or ‘school success.’ For example, a vast amount of states have chosen to address chronic absenteeism at the elementary and secondary levels as one factor demonstrating school quality and success. Connecticut has elected to demonstrate school quality by adding a few supplementary criteria including Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), CTE, and other options for students. Contrast how Ohio has implemented ideas that are both similar and different for their fifth indicator using the table below:

ESSA Indicators Compare States

As you can see, Connecticut and Ohio both have embraced the fifth ESSA indicator requirement but took a different approach to what would be measured, what they would be held accountable for, and how each aspect would be weighted.


We strongly recommend that you check out what your state is doing by visiting’s Accountability in State ESSA Plans breakdown.


What do ESSA Indicators Offer Schools, Districts, and States?

While each state is responsible for tracking, compiling and submitting their own state ESSA accountability reports and plan updates, ESSA’s use of Key Indicators allows for consistency across states when comparing or researching student success.


Transparency & Accountability related to Indicators

Building upon the Connecticut/Ohio example, it is difficult to argue that differences in the indicators make state to state comparisons impossible. It’s really just an issue of doing the math.  Each state ESSA accountability plans demonstrate what is being measured and how much it is being weighed towards the aggregated student achievement score. States are required to share this data publicly at a level of granularity previously unavailable. This transparency reaches deeper that the district report cards and opens data at the school and grade levels. Under ESSA, state report cards demonstrate:

  • An explanation of state accountability systems.
  • The student achievement goal.
  • Population (number) of students that make up a subgroup and how those students are included in the plan.
  • How low-performing schools will be identified as needing extra support – and steps of how schools will move away from being identified as needing improvement.
  • The indicators and their associated weights.
  • Subgroup identification, such as foster kids, homeless kids, military kids, low-income families, special education, racial minorities, etc.
  • Per-pupil expenditures.
  • Post-secondary enrollment.
  • Long-term English-language learners.
  • Cross-tabulated test scores and participation rates.


State & Federal Alignment of Indicators

States have always set goals for what they hoped to achieve using state and local funding sources.  Under ESSA, these states now have additional power to align plans using federal funding as long as they adhere to the indicators as outlined. Most states have used this opportunity to close the gap between state and federal goals by adapting state indicators to more closely align with federal indicators. Not only does this make for much easier management of goals, but it works in favor of schools and districts (and the state) bringing all initiatives into closer alignment which, in turn, creates easier management and adherence across the board. This streamlined approach will also assist in helping all teachers, administrators, and staff know what is required and expected. Take a look at your state goals and how they are similar (or dissimilar) to the ESSA accountability plan indicator goals that were submitted by your state.


Budget Management easier with streamlined Indicators

The changes associated with ESSA’s funding shift to state control provides for a more efficient alignment of funding sources.  Traditionally, school funding is broken into three buckets: local (taxes, etc.), state (salaries, benefits, curriculum, etc.), and federal (flexible funding for programs, etc.). Under the newly aligned funding models most states are adopting, schools are able to utilize similar data to report on the use of all funds regardless of source.  This data is rolled up to the states and published generally through financial report cards that break the data out by location.  This transparency is not just a facet of budget management. Because of the granularity of demonstrating where the funding is being routed it can be matched with performance against the state and federal indicators.  This subsequently circles back to the goals and benefits of greater transparency and accountability. School districts will have greater power to compare and understand spending across school buildings within the district and across their state. It will also help schools to build trust within the community and with their parents.

Districts will need to be conscious about where money is going, why, and how it is making an impact. For example, if a district were to purchase Odysseyware and/or Odysseyware professional development at the central district level, districts would identify the impact these purchases have at each school using Odysseyware.


Get in Touch!

Odysseyware is committed to helping schools and districts achieve academic and performance success with their ESSA goals. Therefore, we invite you to engage with an Odysseyware expert today to learn more about our offerings and how they are helping schools and districts across the nation stay in adherence to their state plans while providing high student achievement and success!

Jun 10, 2018 By thyatt