Congress approved legislation in December to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and end the one-size-fits-all punitive provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act and the school turnaround models. No longer will schools have to demonstrate adequate yearly progress based on a single test score or remove the principal if a school is unable to meet unrealistic goals.

The newest version of ESEA, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), instead provides states and districts with the flexibility to select their own performance measures and goals and make decisions about what happens to schools that miss the mark.

In designing their accountability systems, states must establish “ambitious” long-term goals for all students and each student subgroup in the state. At a minimum, the goals must include:

  • Academic achievement on annual assessments
  • Graduation rates
  • Increases in the percentage of students making progress in achieving English language proficiency

And to prove that you can’t judge a school by its academic performance alone, one of the following indicators must also be included in the plan:

  • Student engagement
  • Educator engagement
  • Student access to and completion of advanced coursework
  • Postsecondary readiness
  • School climate and safety

Great Responsibility

With great power comes great responsibility, and NASSP hopes that states will use this opportunity to design accountability systems that encourage continuous improvement and support—not punishment—for low-performing schools. We do fear that many states will model their plan after Florida and the 14 other states that have adopted A–F school grading systems, which is an accountability system that assigns a letter grade to schools based largely on how students perform on standardized tests.

Although there has been very little research conducted to determine the reliability or validity of using A–F school grading systems for state accountability, the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University released a report in 2013 that was highly critical of their state’s system. They argued that basing a letter grade almost exclusively on test scores does not account for numerous factors that contribute to school performance, including many factors outside of educators’ control. They also noted that A–F grades were not productive for school improvement because they did not explain the how or why of low performance, and the system did nothing to build the capacity of schools or educators.

Other researchers have found that these systems have done little to increase parental engagement and have made it more difficult to attract high-quality principals and teachers to the neediest schools.

The NASSP Board of Directors has released a position statement in opposition to A–F grading systems, which they expect to approve this month. (You can read the position statement at We encourage states to develop report cards for schools and districts that use multiple performance indicators over multiple years and provide useful information for educators, parents, and communities. Rather than punish low-performing schools, districts should work with the school improvement team to develop a school plan that prioritizes areas of improvement based on the results of a comprehensive needs assessment and capacity analysis.

Most importantly, NASSP urges states to provide an opportunity for school leaders and education stakeholders to participate in and provide feedback on the development of their state accountability plan. Congress has agreed with us and has charged states to develop these plans “with timely and meaningful consultation” from state and local officials, educators, and parents.

The development of new accountability systems provides an opportunity for principals’ voices to be heard. Reach out to your state department of education today and offer yourself as a resource as they select performance measures and goals for your school and your students.

Amanda Karhuse is the director of advocacy at NASSP. Follow her on Twitter @akarhuse.