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Preparing for Post COVID-19 Storms in State Accountability Systems

By Sofia Bowman & Jill Shively - May 17, 2022

Sometimes, you can see a storm brewing from miles away.

We’re all familiar with those midwestern summer storms: dark clouds on the horizon, winds starting to pick up, and the smell of the air heating up. We have plenty of time to prepare for those storms—we pull in the deck chairs, take down the umbrella, close up the windows, and even get to the designated safe space if required. The pop-up storms are often more of a risk. When a storm catches you off guard and you don’t have time to prepare, the outcomes can be unexpected.  

The COVID-19 pandemic felt as if it popped up out of nowhere. School leaders were suddenly asked to search for any emergency plans that may have existed and try to find a way to respond to all the challenges facing them. Even leaders who thought they had planned for everything didn’t have a plan for a pandemic. No one could have developed a plan flexible enough to compensate for the changes that states, districts, and schools had to make due to COVID-19.  

The storm brought about by COVID-19 resulted in standardized tests being halted, accountability data not being collected, and interventions and school improvement efforts put on hold to focus on teaching and learning during the pandemic. Most students weren’t attending school in person, learning slowed for many students, and educators were working hard to adapt as much as they could to help. Even if the schools were open to students, anyone who wasn’t a teacher or administrator, like coaches and other intervention staff, often weren’t allowed into the building.  

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to establish statewide exit criteria as part of their accountability systems for schools identified for Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) and Additional Targeted Support and Improvement (ATSI). Schools that do not satisfy the exit criteria within a state-determined number of years (not to exceed four years for CSI schools) will result in more rigorous state determined action. ESEA section 1111(d)(3)(A)(i)(I)). As a result of missing student achievement data and learning loss that has occurred during the pandemic, many states (including in our work with Illinois) are interested in reviewing and revising their accountability systems and exit criteria within their approved ESSA plans.

A new storm

Now, a new storm is brewing; a storm that states can see coming on the horizon and prepare for. While a state’s 2018 ESSA plan may have outlined exit criteria and some rigorous interventions or supports for those schools that didn’t meet the exit criteria, interventions will need to be stronger and even more focused moving forward to provide even more support for schools that are trying to get the students back into the rhythm of learning. The time to start preparing new and adaptable solutions for struggling schools is now. 

Navigating ESSA plans, defining exit criteria, and designing rigorous interventions for Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) and Additional Targeted Support and Improvement Status (ATSI) in a normal year proved difficult. But while weathering the storm of challenges due to COVID-19, many states across the country didn’t collect the data to measure against the exit criteria. After the data are collected again, states may find that many schools that were once identified may not be able to hit their exit criteria goals for improvement. With the struggles of virtual learning and other COVID challenges, the need for strong and clear rigorous interventions will need to be part of the new “storm preparedness plan.” As the need for this plan is approaching and standardized testing is starting up again, Region 9 Comprehensive Center (R9CC) recommends that states review their plans, including the exit criteria and strategies for improvement, specifically with regard to planned rigorous, state-determined actions. 

To assist states, R9CC has created a resource as a “one-stop shop” of information on what states set as exit criteria for CSI and ATSI identified schools and what additional supports are planned for schools that did not meet their exit criteria. This work grew out of a request from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to provide state-level information on exit criteria and rigorous interventions to serve as a resource as they continued to work on their own response to the national storm.  

R9CC’s exit criteria and rigorous intervention resource provides a table of the most up-to-date information on each state’s exit criteria and directions on where to find additional information on the rigorous interventions within each state’s most current ESSA plan. While this project began as an effort to collect exit criteria and rigorous intervention language from states similar to Illinois, it grew to encompass data from all 50 states in the review to ensure R9CC was providing as much information as possible. A resource from the American Institutes for Research®, Proposed State Accountability Systems Under the Every Student Succeeds Act: A Summary of Fall 2017 Submissions, was the starting point of detailing each state’s CSI, TSI, and sometimes ATSI exit criteria. Then, each state’s exit criteria was updated if necessary based on any changes from the state’s first submission. From there, a direct link is provided to the state's most recent ESSA plan and points leaders in the direction of the rigorous intervention language. 

So, as the impending storm brews questions about exit criteria and rigorous interventions, it’s important that existing plans are reviewed, additional information is collected, and leaders ensure that solutions are available as the storm moves their way.  

How to prepare your state

So if you, as a state or educational leader, want to learn what others are doing to prepare for the storm, download this resource as a method to compare states that have similar characteristics and challenges as your own. Not all 50 states have similarly designed statewide systems of support. Not all plans are the same size or support the same number of CSI/TSI schools. R9CC recommends using this resource first to identifying similar states and then comparing different data points, for example, state size, number of students served, urbanicity, and size and design of the statewide system of support framework.  

Looking for some tips on storm preparedness? Review the Exit Criteria resource and ask the following questions:  

  1. Which states are similar to my state in regional area, number of students served, urbanicity, etc., and what can be learned about their plans?  

  1. Of those states, what details of their exit criteria and rigorous intervention plan might benefit a state’s current plan and challenges?  

  1. Who else might benefit from this information to guide discussions on updating a storm preparedness plan? 

  1. Does the discussion need to go farther than just the plan and evaluate our state’s accountability system to better respond to the storm? 

R9CC has already shared the initial Exit Criteria and Rigorous Intervention resource with ISBE to help them plan for the storm. The hope is the document can be used by other state leaders to help review and refine their exit criteria and rigorous interventions to better meet the needs of their schools. As planning for the new school year begins, we hope leaders can use this document to support their state plan and help refine their rigorous interventions. The document can help ensure that states are comfortable with what they have planned for the upcoming storm. 

Sofia Bowman, BA, is a communications assistant at American Institutes for Research, and a part of the Region 9 Comprehensive Center communications team. She assists projects with communications and outreach for various subject areas including postsecondary education, literacy, career and technical education among others. She previously worked at the National Center for State Courts, assisting with communications, outreach, data collection and writing.

Jill M. Shively, PMP, is the project management coordinator for the Region 9 Comprehensive Center, where she is responsible for project reporting, staffing, budgeting, and performance management, and a senior technical assistance consultant at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). She also supports the continuous development and improvement of AIR’s technical assistance in the area of school and district improvement.


Footnote: The information and data were compiled in February 2022; please use this resource as a starting point for decision making and note that states may have updated their ESSA plans with changes to this information that may not be reflected in this report.