Policy & Funding

Report: States Need to Improve High School Accountability Systems

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has created an opportunity for states to overhaul their high school accountability systems, but most are not taking advantage of that opportunity, according to a new report from Fordham Institute.

The report, High Stakes for High Schoolers: State Accountability in the Age of ESSA, examines current or planned state accountability systems for high schools. In particular, the report evaluates whether those systems consider the needs of high-achieving students and ways that states can redesign their accountability systems to better serve all students.

Most states focus on student proficiency rates, which measure the proportion of students who achieve the "proficient" level on state assessments, according to the report, and this approach is flawed because it closely correlates with student demographics and prior achievement and does not indicate which schools are actually effective at promoting growth in student achievement.

According to the report, "states can and should take four steps to ensure that the needs of high achievers are prioritized under ESSA," and it evaluated each state on each of these four indicators:

  1. Does the state rate high schools’ academic achievement using a model that gives additional credit for students achieving at an advanced level?
  2. Does the state rate high schools’ growth using a model that includes the progress of all individual students, not just those below the "proficient" line?
  3. When calculating summative high school ratings, does the state assign at least as much weight to "growth for all students" as it does to achievement?
  4. Does the state rate high schools’ success in helping students earn college credit before graduating via AP, IB, and/or dual-enrollment programs?

The report rated state accountability systems based on the most recent publicly available information. It identified only four states — Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas — with current accountability systems that met all four of the Fordham Institute's evaluation criteria, and four others – Alabama, Idaho, Louisiana and New York — that are "moving in the right direction."

Other key findings from the report:

  • 32 states include high achieving students in their evaluation of academic growth;
  • 21 states value "growth of all students" as much as student achievement;
  • 21 states rate success at helping students earn college credit before graduation; and
  • 16 states and the District of Columbia assign additional credit for high-achieving students.

A previous report from the Fordham Institute, High Stakes for High Achievers: State Accountability in the Age of ESSA, evaluated state accountability systems for K-8 schools.

The latest report, "High Stakes for High Schoolers: State Accountability in the Age of ESSA," can be found on the Fordham Institute's site.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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