Fordham’s recent report, Leveraging ESSA to Support Quality-School Growth, lays out some school improvement strategies that states should strongly consider. But in analyzing how to strengthen school improvement, there are really two separate questions to ponder. First, are states correctly diagnosing why a school isn’t meeting its students’ needs? And second, if they are, are they then responding with the correct solutions?
To date, elementary-school improvement has suffered from a massive problem of misdiagnosis. Fortunately, ESSA scraps school-improvement grants and their narrowly prescribed requirements for a 7 percent set-aside of states Title I money, giving states much more freedom to better figure out what lies at the core of a school’s poor performance—and which interventions will actually lead to durable school improvement.
To better understand the problem, let’s look at the data from two high-poverty schools. Figure 1 compares the percentage of students in each school who meet state standards on the state’s required assessments:
Figure 1. Percentage of students exceeding state standards in two schools, by grade and subject
Identical, right? Not so fast. At School A, a kindergarten readiness assessment indicated that 15 percent of kids...