• North Dakota’s plan puts forth a clear vision.


  • The state has outlined a simple, clear list of accountability indicators, and its plan places a strong weight on student achievement and growth. It proposes to include a simple measure of student achievement and a growth model that expects greater progress from lower-performing students.


  • In addition, North Dakota has built in a promising high school indicator that combines important measures of a student’s readiness for college, career, and the military.


  • Also, the state’s comprehensive approach to stakeholder engagement is noteworthy and offers guidance to states submitting plans in the next round.


  • North Dakota is working with an external partner, AdvancED, to develop the state’s Student Learning Index and to support student-engagement surveys as part of the school-quality indicator, the needs assessment of low-performing schools, and in the continuous-improvement framework for all schools.




  • North Dakota’s plan is inconsistent with some of ESSA’s requirements. It proposes to include former students with disabilities in its students-with-disabilities subgroup, and its timeline to identify schools with low-performing subgroups appears to be a year too slow.


  • Moreover, North Dakota does not weight subgroup performance in its accountability system, and it proposes to cap the number of schools identified for targeted support at 10 percent of schools.


  • Many of the state’s planned interventions in low-performing schools lack specificity, and the state plans to distribute all of its funds intended for school-improvement efforts via formula.


  • North Dakota should clarify how it plans to measure student growth in high school. More information is needed, particularly given that the state plans to allow districts assessment flexibility in high school.


  • There is also concern that North Dakota’s proposal to include GEDs in its calculation of graduation rates will not meet the federal definition — and more important, that the GED does not fully align with the state’s goals for all students.



Click through the tabs on the left to see how North Dakota scored in each category.



North Dakota’s “Choice Ready” goal is embedded throughout its plan.


North Dakota has articulated a vision that “All students will graduate choice ready with the knowledge, skills, and disposition to be successful in whatever they choose to do, whether they pursue a post-secondary degree, enroll in a technical college, enter the workforce, or join the military.”


North Dakota’s proficiency and graduation rate goals lack details.


The state set a goal of reducing the number of nonproficient students by 33 percent in six years. Meeting this goal would still result in a statewide reading proficiency rate of 68 percent, but less than 40 percent among English-language learners.


However, the state also set these goals without analysis of historical data or state trends, so it is difficult to determine whether they are ambitious or attainable.


Its four-year graduation rate goal is also 90 percent for all students and each student group. North Dakota includes GED students in its graduation rate calculation. Including GEDs would put North Dakota out of alignment with other states, out of compliance with federal requirements, and potentially out of alignment with its goal of ensuring that all students graduate “Choice Ready.”



North Dakota is currently revising its standards and replacing its assessment.


North Dakota has been using Smarter Balanced, which was aligned to the state’s standards. But, as the state revises its standards and chooses a new assessment, many questions remain about process – especially ensuring that the new standards will be rigorous and aligned to college and career readiness, and that the new assessments will be aligned to the standards.


The state could also strengthen its plan by ensuring that it has a process in place to meet the 1 percent cap on alternate assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.

It also intends to allow local districts to administer a nationally recognized high school assessment.


However, it is not clear what process the state will use to approve assessments proposed by local districts and to ensure districts provide reasonable accommodations to English learners and students with disabilities.



North Dakota has included several noteworthy indicators.  

In addition to achievement, growth, and English language proficiency, North Dakota has included two indicators in its accountability system that are worthy of highlighting: student engagement and a “Choice Ready” measure.


The state will use a survey of student engagement to measure school quality.


This has the potential to capture student perceptions of their school environment, but North Dakota should proceed thoughtfully to ensure the validity and reliability of such an instrument, and ensure that its use and weighting are supported. The state may also want to consider how it will respond and support schools based on what the survey reveals.


North Dakota aims for every student to graduate ready for college, career, or the military through a “Choice Ready” indicator.


This indicator sets forth a common set of expectations for all students, as well as additional requirements specific to each pathway. The state should monitor implementation and ensure that this measure does not lower teacher expectations for certain groups of students, or lower those same students’ expectations of themselves.


The state’s graduation rate indicators have strengths and weaknesses. On the positive side, North Dakota’s decision to include five- and six-year graduation rates will encourage schools to prioritize students who may need additional time in high school. However, it is unclear how the 13 percent weight assigned to graduation rates is distributed across the state’s three proposed measures. North Dakota could further strengthen its plan by weighting the four-year graduation rate more heavily.



North Dakota’s plan places a strong weight on student achievement and growth.


It proposes to include a simple measure of student achievement, and a growth model that expects greater progress from lower-performing students. For elementary and middle schools, the state plans to give the same weight to achievement and growth.


North Dakota’s growth model incentivizes both academic growth and academic proficiency. However, the state should consider carefully how it communicates the results to parents to ensure they have the information they need to understand how their child’s school is performing, and how that performance compares with other schools.


At the high school level, the state will weight proficiency at 25 percent, and growth and the “Choice Ready” measure will be worth 22 percent combined. It’s not clear how the 22 percent will be divided, and it’s also not clear how the state will be able to measure academic growth at the high school level if every district can select its own assessment and if the test is administered only once. Given that North Dakota intends to allow high schools to choose their own assessments, it will be critical that these assessments meet validity, reliability, and comparability requirements.


North Dakota includes growth for English-language learners as the metric for language acquisition.


North Dakota has decided to use a growth-to-target model for setting interim student-level goals for English language learners’ annual English acquisition. Factoring in age and grade along with baseline performance data would help determine the most appropriate timeline for language acquisition.


North Dakota is using a small n-size of 10 students.


Because there are so many small and rural schools in North Dakota, the state decided to use a small n-size of 10 students. This approach was reinforced through extensive engagement with stakeholders who wanted to make sure every student counted. However, the state could help ensure more subgroups are identified for improvement by changing the proposed confidence interval.


North Dakota does not weight subgroup performance in its accountability system.


It also proposes to cap the number of schools identified for targeted support at 10 percent of schools. Additionally, North Dakota is proposing to look only at four historically under-performing groups. The state provides compelling data behind its focus on these four groups, but it appears inconsistent with the requirements of ESSA to capture any low-performing group.


The state will include former students with disabilities in its subgroup – and measure English-language growth for all K-12 students.


North Dakota also proposes to include former students with disabilities in its students-with-disabilities subgroup. 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. On the positive side, the state is measuring English language growth for all K–12 students, which goes beyond ESSA’s requirement to track it only in grades 3-8 and once in high school.



North Dakota must analyze its data to ensure it’s identifying the right schools for support.      


North Dakota will annually identify the lowest-performing 5 percent of Title I schools based on all of the accountability model indicators. These schools will be labeled comprehensive support schools.


North Dakota will identify an additional 10 percent of schools from across the state for targeted support and improvement. Five percent of schools with the lowest subgroup performance will be identified, as well as the 5 percent of schools with the largest gaps in student achievement.


But North Dakota must analyze its data to ensure that it is identifying those schools with low-performing subgroups who are not making progress toward the long-term goal of reducing the percentage of nonproficient students, and to ensure that its 5 percent caps are not protecting schools with low-performing groups that would otherwise be identified.


Additionally, North Dakota proposes to wait until the 2019-2020 school year to identify targeted schools, but ESSA requires the first group to be identified in 2018-19.


North Dakota’s categories for classifying schools are a missed opportunity.


Finally, it is worth pointing out that North Dakota identifies only three categories of schools: general, targeted, and comprehensive. This misses the opportunity to identify, highlight, and learn from the state’s highest-performing schools.



North Dakota’s approach to supporting schools is not comprehensive.


While school improvement funds are being made available to identified schools, the constellation of supports is not comprehensive, and many of the state’s planned interventions lack specificity. The state also does not specify any more rigorous interventions for those schools that fail to exit comprehensive support and improvement status.


North Dakota has established a multitiered system of supports for identified schools.


The model includes a needs assessment, training in developing plans, professional development, data analysis support, monitoring, and access to research based strategies for student support. Unfortunately, it is not clear how these supports will be accessed or implemented.


North Dakota plans to distribute its 7 percent set-aside of funds dedicated for school-improvement strategies through a formula. Since the state has opted not to use competitive funding, it should at least consider using a rigorous process for reviewing and approving these improvement plans.

Exiting Improvement Status


North Dakota has established rigorous criteria for exiting comprehensive support status.


North Dakota sets reasonable exit criteria that require schools to meet predetermined expectations that directly relate to why schools were in need of corrective action for three consecutive years. Determinations of which schools are identified for comprehensive support are revisited every three years.


North Dakota’s criteria for schools identified for targeted support aren’t as rigorous.


Schools exit when they no longer meet the eligibility criteria or meet their interim goals for the identified subgroup for two consecutive years. They appear to be revisited annually, raising the concern that schools could bounce in and out of status.

Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement is a cornerstone of North Dakota’s vision.


The state will keep its ESSA Planning Committee intact after its plan is submitted, and the committee will work with the state Department of Education to monitor progress toward statewide goals, and review and revise the state’s plan as needed.


North Dakota will also partner with AdvancEd to help build district capacity and fuel improvement.


Schools will work with AdvancED to develop their own improvement plans and submit them to the state. The success of this partnership is yet to be determined, but it is crucial to North Dakota’s implementation of ESSA. It is an interesting model and one worth watching and learning from.

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