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Pathways to New Accountability Through the Every Student Succeeds Act

By Linda Darling-Hammond Soung Bae Channa Cook-Harvey Livia Lam Charmaine Mercer Anne Podolsky Elizabeth Leisy Stosich
Evidence-Based Interventions: A Guide for States

Passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015 creates new possibilities for how student and school success are defined and supported in American public education. One of the most notable shifts from ESSA’s immediate predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act, is that states now have greater responsibility for designing and building their accountability systems and determining supports and interventions for schools and districts. ESSA also marks an important move toward a more holistic approach to accountability by encouraging multiple measures of school and student success.

In this report, the authors provide an overview of key provisions of ESSA and discuss research-based policies and strategies to leverage the new requirements and opportunities. They draw on the work of innovative states and school systems in the U.S. and elsewhere to explore ways of rethinking systems of accountability and support to ensure students are college, career, and life ready.

A redesigned accountability system that accomplishes these goals for students, they note, would rest on three key pillars:

  1. A focus on meaningful learning.
  2. Professionally skilled and committed educators.
  3. Adequate and appropriate resources that enable and support the first two pillars.

Such a system of accountability should also be animated by processes for continuous evaluation and improvement that lead to problem solving and corrective action at the local level and that are supported by the state. (See Figure 1.)

Authors provide a framework for the new system, proposing it should be:

  • reciprocal and comprehensive, with each level of the system—school, district, state, and federal government—held accountable for the contributions it must make to produce an effective system;
  • focused on capacity building, including the knowledge, skills, and improvement processes needed to support high-quality education;
  • performance based in its means for gauging progress and success; and
  • informed by multiple measures that illuminate what is working and what needs to be improved or fixed.

The report illuminates potential approaches to developing more-balanced systems of support and accountability focused on educating young people so they can become productive, engaged citizens who have the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to participate fully in our society. The report includes: an overview of ESSA’s requirements and allowances for indicators, school identification, and evidence-based interventions; a close look at the range of indicators that might be considered as evidence of learning, opportunities to learn, and student engagement; a discussion of how these indicators could be used within a continuous improvement system and how they might be combined to identify schools for intervention and support; and a discussion of research supporting evidence-based interventions that could be used in a new accountability system.


ESSA provides an important opportunity to create new accountability strategies that seek to view students and schools more holistically. Taking advantage of this opportunity will require clarity about what the act permits and requires, as well as creativity in developing new measures, processes for school diagnosis and improvement, and evidence-based interventions that support deeper learning in contexts that further equity goals.

This report is published jointly by the Learning Policy Institute and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education.

Pathways to New Accountability Through the Every Student Succeeds Act by Linda Darling-Hammond, Soung Bae, Channa M. Cook-Harvey, Livia Lam, Charmaine Mercer, Anne Podolsky, and Elizabeth Stosich is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Research in this area of work is funded in part by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation. Core operating support for the Learning Policy Institute is provided by the Ford Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Sandler Foundation.