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Update on ESSA state plans: Four guiding principles clarified.

Last week, we wrote about the effort by the Collaborative for Student Success and Bellwether Education Partners to assess and rate 16 states’ accountability plans for the upcoming implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Thirty education experts evaluated each state’s plan and recommended areas in need of improvement.

This week, the Collaborative for Student Success launched a new website, Check State Plans, which highlights their findings and tracks each state’s progress in developing and improving their plans over time. The site features, among other resources, an interactive map highlighting those states that have so far submitted ESSA plans and outlines the strengths and weaknesses of each.

The plans are evaluated in nine categories: goals, standards and assessments, indicators, academic progress, all students, identifying schools, supporting schools, exiting improvement status, and continuous improvement.

Bellwether and the Collaborative for Student Success say the evaluations featured on the site are meant to serve as guideposts for the 34 states that have yet to submit ESSA accountability plans.

To have real impact, reviewers say, each plan must adhere to four vital principles. No matter where you stand on ESSA accountability, these principles serve as good reminders of what’s important in schools.

1. Set high expectations for students

Are your students college- or career-ready by the time they graduate? Preparing students for the future is among the most important responsibilities of schools. That’s why all states and districts must develop high standards and hold students to them. Assessment scores will play a role in these standards, but, as ESSA suggests, schools should also consider other ways to measure student progress.

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2. Focus on the achievement gap

Your school is only as good as its lowest-performing students. Far too often, low-income students and students of color find themselves behind in key academic subjects such as math and English. Effective accountability plans include strategies for identifying and aiding students who are falling behind.

3. Engage parents and community members through feedback and data

On a state level, this means providing families with clear data about how their schools and districts are performing. School ratings and dashboards are two helpful ways for states to report out to parents. On a local level, engaging families often means having two-way conversations. School districts must constantly seek feedback from community members and use what they learn to make serious improvements.

4. Create processes for identifying and improving failing schools

Are there schools in your district or state that are chronically failing? A strong engagement and accountability plan helps put in place systems for identifying and monitoring struggling schools. From there, community members and district leaders can work together to find solutions that work.

Has your state already developed an ESSA accountability plan? How does it stack up against those listed on the Check State Plans site? Tell us in the comments.