• Overall, D.C. set aggressive goals for academic proficiency and high school graduation. D.C.’s plan is aligned to those goals, is built on high-quality standards and assessments, and assigns substantial weight to both academic achievement and growth.


  • D.C. is also attempting to balance different types of incentives around achievement at different performance levels and different types of growth measures. While these different measures combine to create a broad spectrum of incentives for schools, D.C. should monitor its data and stakeholder feedback to ensure that educators and parents understand the implications of these multiple measures.


  • More broadly, D.C. selected strong indicators of student performance, including new metrics on access and success on college-level coursework and chronic absenteeism.


  • By including a 25 percent weighting for specific subgroups and lowering its minimum subgroup size for accountability purposes to 10 students, D.C. is attempting to ensure that more students are included in its accountability system and their performance is monitored more closely.




  • D.C.’s plan lacks specificity about how it will achieve its goals. The lack of detail is particularly troubling as it relates to how D.C. plans to support its lowest-performing schools and schools with consistently underperforming subgroups of students.


  • D.C.’s plan seems heavily focused on the development of additional plans with deferred stakeholder input, rather than details on how it will provide the necessary supports to turn around struggling schools.


  • Additionally, there is concern that the proposed system is potentially redundant in places, causing unnecessary complexity.


  • D.C.’s school identification plan includes a specific allocation for student subgroups, but it might not provide sufficiently strong incentives. Without data, there’s concern that the performance of underserved populations will not sufficiently affect a school’s rating, and therefore be overlooked.


Click through the tabs on the left to see how D.C. scored in each category.



D.C. set ambitious goals.


D.C.’s proficiency goal is for all students and each student subgroup to demonstrate college and career readiness on its statewide assessments by 2038. While this is a long timeline, it seems reasonable given D.C.’s low proficiency rates.


To increase transparency, D.C. should explain to parents with students currently in the system what they should expect in terms of growth and performance outcomes. D.C. set an interim goal of cutting the gap between each group’s current proficiency rate and 85 percent in half within 10 years.


D.C.’s graduation rate goal would fully close gaps between students. By 2038, the four-year adjusted-cohort graduation rate must be 90 percent of all students and each student subgroup. There is some concern over whether this goal is sufficiently ambitious since it requires an annual growth of only 1-2 percent. D.C. could strengthen its plan by demonstrating that there is a strong connection between graduation and college and career readiness.


D.C. will set ambitious yet realistic growth targets for English-learner students to reach English proficiency.       


D.C. should be credited for setting provisional baselines for English-language proficiency growth using current data — with a promise to recalculate as it gathers new data from the new ACCESS 2.0 assessment. The system makes adjustments for year and age at entry, and ultimately students are expected to score a 5 on the ACCESS exam by their fifth year of schooling in D.C. While it’s not ideal to build English-language proficiency goals based on an old test, D.C. should be credited for making accountability for English-language proficiency a priority during this period.




D.C. has high standards that are aligned with their high-quality assessment.


Since 2010, D.C. has been using the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which are aligned with college and career readiness. It uses the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) assessments in English language arts and mathematics for grades 3-8 and high school. These assessments are high-quality and aligned with the CCSS.


D.C. also conducted focus groups with stakeholders about improving access and accommodations for its annual assessments.


Through PARCC, D.C. offers assessments in Spanish, and it will provide instructions in other languages to support students who speak a language other than English or Spanish. D.C. addresses how students with disabilities who take the alternate assessment will be included in the long-term goal for academic achievement, but D.C. should strengthen its plan by including information on how it will enforce the 1 percent cap on students taking the alternate assessment.



D.C. has up to 14 indicators for school accountability, sometimes with only slight differences between measures.


D.C. did not provide data suggesting that each measure is sufficiently discrete to add extra information to the system, or if some of the measures are just adding undue noise. As a result, it could be difficult for educators and other stakeholders to know what D.C.’s priorities are and where schools should focus their resources and efforts.


At the high school level, including participation and performance on the AP/IB tests is a positive step and will provide a more complete picture of school success. Additionally, it is unclear whether or not all students are required to take the ACT/SAT, and D.C. should specify how it will provide accommodations for students with disabilities.


D.C.’s plan to include a re-enrollment indicator is an interesting choice given the large proportion of charter schools in the district. There is concern that this indicator could create perverse incentives for schools to seek to boost their re-enrollment score by employing practices and expending resources that might not serve students well. Similarly, the state’s decision to include both a four-year and extended-year graduation rate is beneficial; however, D.C. could place greater weight on the four-year rate. Finally, the inclusion of pre-k as an indicator is promising.


D.C.’s plan to include former English learners in the subgroup could inflate performance of current English learners.


Since exiting students tend to have higher performance, the state should monitor its data to ensure it is not masking the performance of students who are still receiving services. It is also unclear how long D.C. plans to retain former English learners in this subgroup.



D.C.’s plan assigns substantial weight to both academic achievement and growth.


At the elementary level, for example, 30 percent of a school’s rating would be based on achievement, and 40 percent would be based on growth.


D.C. also attempts to balance different types of incentives.


For achievement, D.C. includes separate weighting for the percentage of students who are approaching and meeting grade-level standards in math and English. And it includes both a norm-referenced growth model, which compares students to similarly performing peers, and a criterion-referenced measure, which will measure what percentage of students met their pre-determined growth targets.


While these different measures combine to create a broad spectrum of incentives for schools, they could also be confusing, and D.C. should make sure to communicate its rationale behind the measures to parents and educators.



D.C. includes subgroup performance in its overall school ratings.


D.C. should also be commended for lowering its n-size from 25 to 10. Under the D.C. plan, race/ethnicity, economically disadvantaged, and English-learner subgroups each account for 5 percent of a school’s overall grade. The students-with-disabilities subgroup receives more significant weight at 10 percent.


D.C. should monitor its data to ensure low-performing subgroups are accurately reflected.


Given the proposed structure and D.C.’s identification of 10 unique student groups, it is concerning that the low performance of any one group will not have a significant impact on a school’s overall rating. D.C. should monitor its data and raise these weightings if they fail to provide sufficient pressure on schools to address individual subgroup performance. Similarly, more data are needed to understand how D.C. will identify schools with low-performing subgroups as targeted support schools.



D.C. public schools will receive a clear grade.


D.C.’s School Transparency and Reporting (STAR) system will provide an annual summative rating for all public schools in D.C. Each school will receive one to five stars, but D.C. has not yet finalized its cut points for how its STAR summative rating will be determined.


D.C. will identify the bottom 5 percent of schools as needing support every three years.


Schools identified for targeted support and improvement follow a similar process. But in this case, a school is identified for targeted support if any subgroup’s performance by itself would score among the bottom 5 percent of index scores. D.C. did not provide information on how many schools this method would identify, but it should run its data to ensure this is a meaningful check, and the plan should describe how many schools D.C. expects would be identified for each group.


D.C.’s plan lacks consequences for schools not meeting participation rates in annual testing.


By not holding schools accountable – beyond feedback and support – for failing to meet the 95 percent participation rate in annual testing, D.C. could undermine the school-rating system.


For the first time, D.C. will rate public charter schools with the same ratings as traditional public schools.


However, the plan could be clearer in how it articulates the role between the Public Charter Schools Board and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to ensure that the authorizer has clear authority over identifying low quality.



D.C. will use its 7 percent set-aside for school-improvement activities through both a formula and competitive process.


However, the plan does not provide many details about how grants will be awarded and how much they will be. D.C. does not provide sufficient information about the amount of progress schools will need to demonstrate that a particular intervention is working. Furthermore, there is not a clear process for how the state will engage with community stakeholders.


D.C. would monitor and fund strategies instead of leading the interventions and support process.


It would also provide data and feedback to the charter and traditional public school sectors.

Exiting Improvement Status


Schools will exit comprehensive and targeted support status in three-year cycles.


Schools can also be granted a fourth year if they are making considerable progress – but it is unclear what constitutes “considerable progress.”


Schools in targeted support status can exit their improvement status in two years if the specific group of students is no longer in the bottom 5 percent overall. Since these schools are compared with each other, it is entirely possible that an identified school could exit an identified status less because of its improvements and more because another school underperformed.


D.C. does not provide a clear picture of the school-improvement continuum for schools.


The plan also does not articulate clear consequences or interventions for schools that remain in the comprehensive support category for longer than six years. D.C. does not provide a clear framework for how schools must identify key issues in student performance, why a strategy or approach will work, and what kinds of support or resources will be required. Unhelpfully, the plan explicitly states that school closure would not be a state-initiated option, even after many years of underperformance.

Continuous Improvement


D.C. plans to conduct an annual resource equity review.


It will review access to experienced teachers, per-pupil expenditures, access to advanced coursework, pre-k programs, and specialized instructional support. Data will be updated and shared publicly at least every three years. There is no articulated plan to adjust resource inequity — it simply commits to conducting the review and sharing the data. Additionally, the data should be shared annually rather than on a three-year cycle.


D.C.’s plan lacks processes for stakeholder feedback, review, and adjustment.


D.C.’s plan does not describe a process for providing regular feedback to stakeholders, or to review and possibly modify the plan as implementation is underway. A cycle of feedback, review, and adjustment is also not detailed for school-improvement. There is no mention of public reporting of results on the accountability framework or other metrics beyond accountability.

Learn more about why these categories matter: