How States Are Including Health and Wellness in State Accountability Systems

January 06, 2017

As part of the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), each state education agency (SEA) is required to create a state accountability system. Accountability systems are used by SEAs to determine how local education agencies (LEAs) are serving their students and how the state can help LEAs with specific types of support. They are used to determine how LEAs are meeting the state’s priorities, so each state’s system will encompass a different set of indicators. These systems also create what is essentially a ranked list of schools, where the lowest performers are put into a group that receives intense support from the state education agency.

Under ESSA, state’s must include in their accountability systems at least one non-academic indicator, which is a measure of school quality or success. Examples of non-academic indicators specifically mentioned in ESSA include measures of school climate and safety, such as chronic absenteeism and incidences of violence. Measurement of these non-academic indicators can support health, since they are related to school climate (social and emotional health, bullying prevention, positive behavioral supports) or measure absences, which are often health-related. Given that state accountability systems define the goals and activities of a number of Title I programs, the inclusion of a non-academic indicator in these systems presents an important opportunity to elevate the connection between health and learning and ensure SEAs and LEAs are held accountable for supporting the whole child.

Even before the passage of ESSA, some state and local education agencies began developing accountability systems that include health and wellness indicators. The CORE Districts in California established the School Quality Improvement Index (SQII). In addition to academic indicators, the SQII includes metrics to measure social-emotional and culture climate factors, including chronic absenteeism, culture-climate surveys of students, teachers, and parents, suspension/expulsion rates, and social emotional skills. Additionally, Connecticut developed an accountability system through two years of stakeholder engagement called Next Generation Accountability. This approach uses a 12-indicator multiple measures system that includes various academic indicators and graduation rates, but also includes chronic absenteeism rates and physical fitness participation and performance rates.

Each state’s plan will be crafted to address its unique environment, but some general principles apply to virtually all states. It is important to understand the current policy environment in your state and to identify opportunities to align the state’s new accountability system with these existing policies. An understanding of the state’s policy landscape will help in two ways. First, implementation of existing policies can be strengthened by incorporating this into a state’s ESSA plan. Second, gaps can be identified and can thus be addressed through ESSA implementation. For example, if your state already requires schools to administer physical fitness assessments, you might have enough data to consider including this information on the state report card or accountability system. If your state does not have this type of requirement, you might want to start by using the report card to show how much PE and/or recess is available to students.

For an example of an approach to accountability systems, see a summary of HSC’s response to Illinois’ draft ESSA plan or review the entire response. These recommendations were made in the context of Illinois’s policy environment and may not apply elsewhere.

For an overview of different approaches to accountability systems, check out the recent report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) called “Making the Grade: a 50-state Analysis of Accountability Systems.” This comprehensive report features a thorough description of current accountability systems around the country, as well as recommendations for adjustments that states should make as they comply with requirements under ESSA.