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Accountability in the ESSA era About the Accountability in the ESSA Era Alliance

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gives states discretion to design their school accountability systems while mandating that they incorporate measures in addition to proficiency on state assessments. States must select those measures, which can include any of a wide range of indicators of student success or school quality. This alliance brings together state education agencies and interested staff from school districts, supporting them in developing and refining indicators of school and student performance.

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The REL Mid-Atlantic: Accountability in the ESSA Era Research Alliance

Planned and ongoing activities

The REL is conducting a descriptive and simulation-based analysis to examine how specific aspects of the accountability system rules in Delaware, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia (DC) affect the types of schools identified for support. The study will answer the following research questions:

  1. How are students and TSI/A-TSI/CSI designations distributed across subgroups and school types?
  2. What are the average ELA and math proficiency levels of SWDs in elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools, and students over all, in each state?
  3. How do schools where the number of SWDs meets the minimum sample size for inclusion in accountability reports differ from the statewide average?
  4. How would rates of TSI/A-TSI identification vary between school types depending on how the number of students in the subgroups compares to the minimum reporting standard, if true performance had the same distribution for all school types? Does the relationship between TSI/A-TSI identification and subgroup size vary by state?
  5. What are the characteristics of CSI and A-TSI schools in New Jersey? Do common characteristics of CSI and A-TSI schools indicate that the evaluation criteria might have unintended consequences, for example, over-identifying small schools?
  6. How would using a different approach to including data on subgroups of students alter the list of New Jersey’s CSI schools?

Principal investigators: Lauren Vollmer Forrow and Kevin Kelly

This project expands on previous work with Maryland on measuring school climate. In this follow-on work, the REL is working with MSDE to build its internal capacity to effectively employ the newly developed measure of school climate and its associated index by analyzing data from the spring 2019 survey. REL staff will work with MSDE staff to build skills to independently validate and revise the survey, develop a school climate index, and develop school-level reports on the student and staff surveys.
New Jersey is interested in analyses that will provide the state with better comparative information about the three assessments it currently allows for purposes of granting a high-school equivalency certificate. This study will inform oversight of the assessments, including the setting of cut scores and policies that could address barriers to access to some exams for certain groups.

The design of information displays like school report cards can have a substantial effect on users. The REL is working with the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education to test the impacts of different design factors. In this experiment, participants will view report cards that can vary in the factors we are investigating. Each participant can view up to two visually distinct report card designs. Across the entire sample, we will examine all possible combinations of design choices. After displaying each report card, we will measure parents' comprehension of information presented in the report card and their self-reported evaluations of the designs. The findings from this study will provide evidence of how different school report card designs affect usability.

The REL will provide support to the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to develop its capacity on analytic issues related to chronic absenteeism, one of PDE’s School Quality and Student Success indicators identified in the state’s ESSA plan. This project will improve PDE staff’s knowledge about how other state ESSA plans measure chronic absenteeism; about how well Pennsylvania’s measure usefully differentiates among schools; and about how potential variations in the planned measure of chronic absenteeism would alter the list of identified schools. The REL will also teach PDE staff to conduct their own analyses of their measures, enhancing their ability to inform potential decisions on the refinement of the state’s measures in future years.

REL researchers will explore the properties of Pennsylvania’s school climate surveys with the aim of developing a summary index of school climate that could be calculated for each school. This project will provide diagnostic information that is useful to local educators in their school improvement efforts.

Completed activities

Like other states across the country, Maryland is including additional measures of school performance, such as a measure of school climate, in its ESSA plan. The REL assisted the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) with selecting and refining school climate surveys for school staff, parents, and students. The REL provided coaching and technical support towards analyzing pilot survey data and interpreting survey results.

Infographic on the Importance of School Climate School Climate Infographic (3.15 MB)
School climate data can drive school improvement. This REL infographic discusses why school climate is important and how school climate can be measured.

The REL assisted the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) in its analysis of data from a survey designed to assess SEL competencies and helped DCPS develop reliable and valid scales and indices of the resulting data. Review a recent presentation to learn more about this work.

During the workshop, the REL consolidated and disseminated evidence on best practices for communicating school performance data to parents, taxpayers, educators, and other stakeholders through online school report cards. The workshop focused on three themes: (1) content, (2) design, and (3) process. A recording and highlights of the workshop can be found here.


  • Help develop, refine, analyze, and interpret school climate measures.
  • Assess the extent to which high school equivalency measures predict student outcomes.
  • Develop thoughtful and strategic ways of using school-climate measures in accountability frameworks and school improvement.
  • Explore school performance measures to enhance the breadth and depth of accountability frameworks.
  • Provide a forum to share lessons about the design, development, and implementation of accountability systems and measures to improve their efficacy.

What Our Stakeholders Are Saying

Developing and Validating Socio-Emotional Learning Measures

  • Brandee Tate, formerly with the District of Columbia Public Schools
  • Elizabeth Kim, District of Columbia Public Schools

Upcoming Events

Recent Events

Research Alliance Facilitator: Brian Gill, PhD, JD
Name Title Organizational affiliation Organization location
Chandra Haislet Director of Accountability and Data Systems Maryland State Department of Education Maryland
Rosemary Hughes Special Advisor to the Secretary on School Improvement Pennsylvania Department of Education Pennsylvania
Chantel Janiszewski Accountability and Performance Management Delaware Department of Education Delaware
Donna Johnson Strategic Planning & Performance Officer/ Director of Accountability Office of the State Superintendent of Education District of Columbia
Jessica Merville Director of Performance Management New Jersey Department of Education New Jersey
Gene Pinkard, Jr. Deputy Chief of School Turnaround and Performance DC Public Schools District of Columbia
Adam Schott Special assistant to the Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Education Pennsylvania
Dara Shaw Executive director, research and accountability Maryland State Department of Education Maryland
Interested in joining us or learning more? Contact us.