New Brief Shows Few States Include 9th Grade On Track to Graduate Measures in ESSA Accountability Plans

Friday, February 2, 2018Printer-friendly version

Washington, D.C. — February 5, 2018 — Achieve today released a new brief analyzing states’ use of indicators of whether students in 9th grade are on track to graduate in their state accountability plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The brief — On Track or Falling Behind? How States Include Measures of 9th Grade Performance in their ESSA Plans — finds that although research clearly demonstrates the importance of 9th grade for student success, less than one-third of states have defined a statewide on-track indicator, and just 11 states are including an on-track measure in their high school accountability systems as submitted under ESSA. The brief also presents a set of recommendations and action steps for states to define and use on-track indicators to identify and support at-risk students, focusing on efforts to support local districts.

Research has shown that 9th grade is a crucial transition point for students; warning signals in 9th grade can indicate whether or not students will succeed in high school and graduate. In order to identify students who are most at risk of not succeeding in high school, state data and reporting systems should focus on a suite of early warning indicators and provide the right information to the right people at the right time. One key indicator is a measure of whether 9th grade students are on track to graduate, which indicates whether students are earning the credits to graduate in a timely manner.

Under ESSA, every state was required to submit a plan to hold its K–12 schools accountable for student performance, with flexibility in defining and weighting different indicators of success. Achieve’s review of states’ ESSA plans found that some states have chosen to include a 9th grade on track to graduate indicator in their accountability systems, while a handful of others publicly report the percentage of students who are on track to graduate but stop short of including it in their accountability plans.

Highlights from the analysis include:

  • Eleven states are including an on-track measure in their high school accountability system (AK, AR, CT, DE, IL, MD, MA, NV, OR, WA, and WV). Two of these states (CT, NV) are also including an on-track indicator in their middle school accountability system. One additional state (LA) is including an on-track indicator only for middle school accountability.
  • Three additional states (FL, HI, and OH) publicly report the percentage of students who are on track to graduate, but do not include it as an accountability indicator.
  • States’ definitions for this indicator vary from simply looking at credit accumulation, to considering course performance, to focusing on acquiring credit in particular core subject areas.
  • While this is good practice, states can do more. They can, and must, provide financial and technical support to local districts to implement high-functioning data and reporting systems that provide school and district personnel with real time access to key early warning indicators such as on-track measures.
  • States should also support the professional and leadership development of educators and school leaders, and consider creating and supporting networks of districts to promote the optimal use of early warning indicators.

This brief is the latest in a series of briefs analyzing elements of states’ accountability plans that Achieve plans to release in the coming weeks. Achieve has also created an online tracker of the full components of each state’s accountability plan. The information on the website has been pulled directly from state ESSA plans, including final plans for those that have been approved by the U.S. Department of Education and the most recent versions for those that remain under review. Achieve will update the site as plans continue to be approved and finalized.


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