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NASBE Outlines ‘Fifth Indicator’ Opportunities for State Boards to Ensure Student Success under ESSA

For Immediate Release: May 24, 2017
Contact: Renee Rybak Lang,, 703-740-4841

NASBE Outlines Fifth Indicator Opportunities for State Boards to Ensure Student Success under ESSA

Alexandria, VA – The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) paved the way for states to create holistic accountability systems that measure school quality and student success by means other than academic test scores. States incorporated a variety of “fifth indicators” in state plans they submitted this spring for review by the U.S. Department of Education. Others are weighing which indicators to include in their fall submission, just as the Trump administration released its education budget request, which seeks to eliminate funding for parts of the law and funds others at significantly less than authorized levels.

A new series of NASBE policy updates explores the pros and cons of five frequently discussed indicators: career and technical education, school climate and student discipline, social and emotional learning, chronic absenteeism, and access to high-level course work. It highlights what states have proposed in their ESSA plans so far and offers key considerations for state boards that are refining their plans for September submission.

  • Career and Technical Education. So far, 23 states out of the 42 that NASBE reviewed intend to use CTE as a fifth indicator or have indicated they are considering it. In order to bridge the traditional divide between CTE and academic courses, Michigan is associating career readiness and academic rigor in one measure that encompasses rigorous course work in dual enrollment, AP, IB, and CTE classes. States like North Dakota incorporate work-based learning, community service, and industry credentials as part of their measures to raise the profile of all hands-on learning.
  • School Climate and Student Discipline. A handful of states are looking at rates of exclusionary discipline and disparities in those rates as a measure of school climate. Tennessee’s plan includes school discipline as a subcategory of its chronic absenteeism indicator, and California plans to have a stand-alone indicator on school discipline that looks at rates and disparities by race and disability.
  • Social and Emotional Learning. Despite widespread discussions of the importance of SEL for student success, states have opted not to include measures of students’ SEL competencies in statewide accountability systems. States can still promote SEL in other ways. For example, California’s CORE districts are measuring SEL competency through school-based surveys delivered to students, teachers, and parents, but these measures are not used for stakes-based accountability decisions. Additionally, 17 states in the Center for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning’s (CASEL) Collaborating States Initiative are working to define SEL competencies and create policies and implementation guidelines to advance evidence-based SEL programs and practices.
  • Chronic Absenteeism. So far, 32 states and the District of Columbia have indicated interest in using chronic absenteeism as an indicator of student disengagement and risk for lower achievement and dropout. Based on public input and research evidence, New Jersey selected chronic absenteeism as its sole fifth indicator in its spring submission. For other states, like Connecticut, it is part of a package of measures it will track in its accountability system.
  • Access to High-Level Course Work. Many states have selected indicators that highlight inequitable access to advanced courses, participation in those courses, or postsecondary outcomes can help states make sure students are prepared for college-level courses and success in the workforce. Louisiana, for example, proposes a measure to ascertain whether students have access to diverse areas of learning, including the arts, foreign languages, technology, cocurricular activities, advanced courses, health/PE, and career pathways.

The series authors conclude that regardless of which indicators states name in their plans in 2017, they all must wrestle with potential unintended consequences of raising a new indicator to fifth indicator status, and they have to address issues with the quality and reliability of the underlying data. Thus many states may decide either to weight the new measure lightly, simply to include it in reporting requirements but without attaching high-stakes consequences to it, or to defer adding new measures until they have studied it further.

Read ESSA’s Fifth Indicator: A NASBE Policy Update Series.

The National Association of State Boards of Education represents America’s state and territorial boards of education. Our principal objectives are to strengthen state leadership in education policymaking, advocate equality of access to educational opportunity, promote excellence in the education of all students, and ensure responsible lay governance of education. Learn more at 


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