By Susan Homes posted 06-05-2018 17:09


As the Illinois State Board of Education prepares to deliver designations to schools under its new ESSA plan, this blog will provide readers with background information and resources to provide support to educators. This blog will also provide a platform for posting up-to-date information as it becomes available from ISBE. 


Illinois has aligned its ESSA plan to its vision of the whole child. Under No Child Left Behind, school and district performance were measured solely on student proficiency in math and English Language Arts. The “Every Student Succeeds Act,” signed by President Obama on December 10, 2015, reauthorized the 50-year old Elementary and Secondary Educational Act, the nation’s national education law and longstanding commitment to equal opportunity for all students. The new Act shifted more local control to the states. 

To put the new plan into perspective, let’s take a moment to review a few milestones related to accountability. The No Child Left Behind Act was passed by Congress in 2001 and signed into law by President Bush in January 2002. The plan laddered student achievement over a 12-year period with an expected goal of having 100% of all students met or exceed at their grade level by 2014. Several Illinois stakeholder agencies and associations formed a partnership in 2012 to unite the education community and to develop a long-range blueprint for improving public education in Illinois. The work of this partnership has resulted in legislative change as well as a strong voice for positive rather than punitive school improvement. Between 2015 and 2016, the state assembled a committee to develop a balanced accountability measure and drafted its ESSA plan. Illinois’ plan was approved by the Department of Education in 2017, allowing the state to pilot its new system of support, IL Empower, in 2017. Illinois’ ESSA plan is developed to move schools toward its long-term academic goals over a 15-year timeframe.

The Quality Framework

Vision 20/20 recognized that the most critical purpose of education systems is to continuously drive and create improvement so that ALL learners succeed. As a result, the desire to create a systems approach to continuous improvement became the emphasis for the balanced accountability model. It was determined that simply monitoring outcomes would never provide the clarity necessary to create an environment that would improve those outcomes...that improving the factors and conditions within the system was the most important. A group of stakeholders came together to develop this framework and its associated rubric so that school leaders could focus on the practices that are proven to lead to great schools. The Quality Framework is aligned with nationally recognized best practices and intended to provide continuity between the various structures within an educational system to determine progress. It provides all schools in the state with a common language for school improvement. The components and associated rubric allow school leaders to focus on those best practices that will have a positive impact on their school environment. The framework is designed to provide the structure around which professional development for schools can be built. Each school will have the ability to provide its own evidence of effectiveness.

The New System of Accountability

Indicators. Under the new accountability system, multiple measures will be factored into a school's summative designation. As ISBE’s plan evolved, three design principles served to drive the development: equity, support for schools, and recognition of local context. The list of indicators for elementary schools (K-8) includes: English Language Arts proficiency; math proficiency; English Learner proficiency; ELA and math growth; science proficiency; chronic absenteeism; climate surveys; P-2, 3-8, and fine arts. The indicators for high schools (9-12) English Language Arts proficiency; math proficiency; English Learner proficiency; graduation rate; science proficiency; chronic absenteeism; climate surveys; 9th graders on track; college and career readiness; and fine arts. 

Subgroups. Under ESSA, the subgroup size has been reduced from 40 students to 20. In addition to the subgroups that existed under NCLB, there are several new subgroups as well as one redefined subgroup. In additional to racial and ethic subgroups, students with disabilities now also includes students who have 504 Plans. The new subgroup entitled “Students formerly with disabilities” includes students dismissed from services or those no longer with a 504 plan. Such students remain a part of the new subgroup for 4 years past service dismissal. The other new subgroup “Former English Learners dismissed from services” will include all students dismissed from EL services including and up through their graduation.

Tier Designations.  Based on the analysis of performance regarding each indicator, each school will receive a tier designation. A district comprised of one school will have a designation for that school. A district comprised of ten schools will have 10 designations—one for each school. In determining a summative tier designation for each school, it is important to understand that the analysis starts with a review of the performance of each subgroup at each grade level for each indicator. Following this review, a summative designation for each subgroup is determined. Once these subgroup designations are finalized, an overall summative designation for the school is made. The school will be identified with a Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3, or Tier 4 designation.

Tier 1 schools are those that have no under-performing subgroups, have a graduation rate greater than 67 percent, and perform in the top 10% of schools in the state.  These schools are considered Exemplary. The state has defined an under-performing subgroup as one in which the students are performing at or below the level of the “all students” group in the lowest 5% of Title I schools in Illinois. To further clarify, a school may have a subgroup whose performance is lower than its own “all students” performance, but if the subgroup’s performance is higher than the “all students” group of the lowest 5% of schools in Illinois, it may still qualify for Tier 1 or Tier 2 status.

Tier 2 schools meet the same criteria as Tier 1 but are not in the top 10% of schools in the state.  Illinois refers to these schools as commendable.
Tier 3 schools are labeled under-performing and have one or more subgroups that perform at or below the level of the “all students’ group in the lowest 5% of Title I schools.
Tier 4 schools are in the lowest performing 5% of Title I schools in Illinois or is a high school with a graduation rate of 67% or less.


IL-Empower provides all schools with access to Illinois' new statewide system of support to help them build capacity, leadership and resources to improve student outcomes. There are four core values that serve as the basis for Illinois Empower: whole child, whole school, whole community, and equity. This underscores the vision of Illinois’ ESSA plan. Schools wishing to utilize IL-Empower services complete a needs assessment and equity audit to identify areas for support as well as to drive the development of an improvement plan with targets and a timeline. Tier 3 schools receive targeted support and must complete the needs assessment and equity audit as well as write an improvement plan which is approved by its local Board of Education. These schools are encouraged to work with IL-Empower approved learning partners but are not required to do so. Tier 4 schools receive comprehensive support and must complete the needs assessment, the equity audit, and write an improvement plan that is approved by the Illinois State Board of Education. Tier 4 schools must work with IL-Empower approved learning partners. In additional Tier 3, schools which have one or more student demographic groups that fall within the lowest 10% of performance for three or more consecutive years (regardless of the school's summative rating) and schools that have failed to meet the 95% assessment threshold for all students or for one or more student demographic groups for three consecutive years in a row, also receive targeted support. Schools that have received targeted services but were unable to increase academic achievement/growth within a 4-year period of time ("chronically under-performing") receive comprehensive support.  

With regard to the 95% assessment threshold, all students attending a school are included in the annual School Report Card; however, only students attending the school for more than half the year are included in the summative rating designation. The percentage of students proficient in English Language Arts and math, will be calculated out of the number who tested or 95% of those who should have tested - whichever is larger. English learners in their first year in the United States must take all content area assessments but none are used for accountability.

Resource Links

ISBE ESSA Plan Document
ISBE Accountability Technical Advisory Committee
U.S. Department of Education - Federal Every Student Succeeds Act

Learning Opportunities

IPA Webinar - ESSA Basics
IPA Course (3 PD Hours) - An Introduction to School Accountability under Illinois’ ESSA Plan
Administrator Academy - ESSA: School Accountability Under Illinois' Plan (AA#1917) - August 3, 2018