Much has been written about requirements in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) related to school classification, particularly with respect to approaches for determining if a school should be identified for support. However, less attention has been given to methods for determining when a school’s performance is sufficient to exit such identification. Exit criteria offer clear goals to schools and districts that are connected to the state’s accountability system and reflect improvement expectations that should be sustained over time.1 , 2 If exit criteria are incoherently or unintentionally specified, they can lead to unattainable targets, inaccurate interpretations of whether schools need the same intensity of support, or distractions associated with managing perceptions instead of improvement.3 Accordingly, the focus of this brief is to discuss principles to inform exit criteria and to provide guidance to help state leaders apply these principles.
The essential question we attempt to address in this brief is, “How can we recognize sustainable and scalable school improvement when we see it?” Because this is a timely and important issue to state education leaders, we explicitly frame this topic in the context of school accountability systems developed in response to ESSA. In fact, we will focus most directly on approaches to inform exit standards for the categories of Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) and Additional Targeted Support and Improvement (ATSI) given the explicit statutory requirements for these categories, detailed in the next section. We believe the principles addressed in this document have broad implications for accountability and support practices that transcend the policies and practices of ESSA.