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Making Data Count under ESSA: A Practical Guide

When the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed late last year, the legislation signaled a significant departure from its predecessor. After a decade-plus of frustrations and complaints about too much teaching to the test, NCLB was long overdue for a reboot.

Heading into a new school year, education leaders have had nearly nine months to process the nuances of the law, which promises to return power to the states and pushes a broader set of metrics by which to gauge student and school performance.

The jury is understandably still out on the law’s effectiveness. But there is little doubt that its provisions will compel school leaders to think differently about how they measure and report their successes.

As Dr. Stephan Knobloch, former director of research for the Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia, now chief learning officer at K12 Insight, wrote earlier this year on a popular Education Week blog,  “ESSA forces turnaround leaders to take a broader view of school improvement by expanding the lens of success to other non-academic indicators, such as school culture and professional development.” Specifically, ESSA requires each state to add at least one “non-academic indicator”—think school climate, community engagement, discipline rates, or college-and-career readiness—to their success matrix.

As states and schools begin to determine which non-academic indicators make the most sense for them and for their communities, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the systems and processes needed to effectively measure these indicators are woefully underrepresented in America’s schools.

In need of better data
ESSA doesn’t let states or districts choose any old data, writes Daarel Burnette II for Education Week. The law requires states to use data that is “valid, reliable, and comparable across districts.” School and state leaders must be able to parse that information according to specific student demographics.

So what if your state wants to measure its success in accordance with what is actually happening in the classroom or elsewhere in its schools? Is there a way to gauge something as seemingly qualitative as parent or teacher engagement? One way to measure those indicators is through the use of community-based surveys and other forms of parent, student, and teacher feedback.

But even as schools consider the best ways to measure success beyond the obvious limitations of standardized tests, there is another problem to consider: How can states create an equitable system that allows educators to easily benchmark data against other schools for comparison’s sake?

It’s a difficult question—and a key reason why many states have taken a decidedly deliberate approach to ESSA.

Too much to handle?
The truth? Some states have no choice but to tread lightly. As Burnette explains, data collection and reporting in many school communities is simply outdated.

The massive amount of data required under the law could create real problems for states.

The challenge is not lost on state education leaders. Some states, such as  Connecticut, have assembled task forces to tackle these challenges. Others, such as South Carolina, have invested in programs to unify student and school data collection. In anticipation of these and other changes, your schools are likely already considering how to measure non-academic indicators under ESSA.

Looking for a better way to gauge student and school performance through the eyes of students, parents, and teachers? The School Leader’s Definitive Guide to the Every Student Succeeds Act is your roadmap to measuring non-academic indicators.