Washington, D.C. — February 1, 2018 — Achieve today released two new briefs analyzing states’ long-term graduation rate and academic achievement goals as submitted in their state plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The briefs — Thinking Long Term: State Graduation Rate Goals Under ESSA and Thinking Long Term: State Academic Achievement Goals Under ESSA — offer insights into the different approaches states have taken in setting long-term goals, and compares their baselines, timelines, and trajectories to reach those goals. The briefs also lay out a set of recommendations for states as they turn to the difficult task of making their graduation and academic achievement goals into a reality.
Under ESSA, every state was required to submit a plan to hold its K–12 schools accountable for student performance that included a set of “ambitious” long-term goals in both graduation rate and academic achievement; however, states retained complete autonomy over where to set their goals and how fast to reach them. Achieve’s review of states’ ESSA plans found that most states did not call on historical data or trends to make the case for why they set their goals and measures of interim progress where they did.
Furthermore, analysis of the intersection between graduation rate goals and academic achievement goals reveals a severe disconnect between the two. In many states, the graduation rate goal is significantly higher than the academic proficiency goals, indicating that states seem resigned to continue awarding diplomas to large numbers of students who are underprepared in the core subjects of mathematics and English language arts (ELA)/literacy.
Key findings from the long-term graduation rate goals analysis include:
- There is wide variation among states in the timelines they have adopted to reach their goals, ranging from three years to 22 years into the future; graduation goals range from 83 percent to 100 percent.
- Most states’ ESSA plans do not connect graduation rate goals with how schools will be held accountable and supported if they are low-performing. It is not clear in all states how schools’ meeting – or missing – the interim measures of progress or long-term goals factor into the accountability system.
- Most states have explicitly set long-term goals for mathematics and ELA proficiency that fall quite short of their related goals for the numbers of students they expect to graduate. Despite 40 states having four-year graduation rate goals at or above 90 percent, states’ proficiency goals for students are typically set much lower. Twenty-nine states have set long-term proficiency goals for all students in math at 75 percent or less. In ELA, 23 states have set long-term proficiency goals for all students at 75 percent or less.
- On average, states set goals that require 0.9 percentage point increases in the four-year graduation rate each year – increases consistent with the graduation rate increases seen nationally over the last three years. Still, there was a wide range among states – some set goals that require 2.3 percentage point annual gains in graduation rate; others set goals that require 0.2 percentage point annual gains in graduation rate.
Key findings from the long-term academic achievement goals analysis include:
- There is considerable range in the annual gains in proficiency rates states will need to achieve to meet their long-term goals in mathematics (from 0.4 to 6.8 percentage points annually) and ELA (from 0.4 to 6.2 percentage points annually).
- Most states’ ESSA plans do not connect student achievement goals with how schools will be held accountable and supported if they are low-performing. It is not clear in all states how schools’ meeting – or missing – the interim measures of progress or long-term goals factor into the accountability system.
- Setting goals by grade band or grade level: Fifteen states set long-term achievement goals differentiated by grade band or grade level. These states’ goals reflect the reality that baseline student proficiency rates vary by grade. Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia set a percent proficiency goal for all students in all grades – which may require a doubling of proficiency rates for one grade level, but only modest increases in another.
- Setting goals by student subgroup: Eighteen states and the District of Columbia expect each subgroup to reach the same long-term proficiency goal by a specific year, regardless of each subgroup’s baseline. Thirty-two states set long-term achievement goals that differ by subgroup. These states typically frame their goals in the context of “reducing proficiency gaps” by a certain percentage – rather than eliminating all gaps – and, thus, do not result in the same final goals for each individual subgroup.
- Across all states, 2025 was the most common long-term goal year states chose.
These briefs are the first two of 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.