Skip to main content


With permission from Democracy Prep Public School

You are here

An Independent Review of ESSA State Plans

Chad Aldeman
Max Marchitello
Kaitlin Pennington

Update: Click here to see interim reviews of California and New York’s draft ESSA plans.

The 2015 passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) ushered in a new era for state accountability systems.  ESSA provided states an opportunity to help all students succeed by rethinking both how they identify schools that need to improve, and how those schools might be improved. The law requires states to submit a formal plan to the Department of Education for peer review and then begin implementing that plan in the 2017-18 school year. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia submitted their plans this past April, and the remainder will do so in September.  

Keeping student success at the heart of these plans is paramount. That’s why Bellwether Education Partners, in partnership with the Collaborative for Student Success, convened an objective, independent peer review of state accountability plans in order to look beyond mere compliance with the federal process, encourage all states to adopt high-quality plans, and provide a resource for state leaders working to help all students succeed.

ESSA Report CoverRead our executive summary of strengths and weaknesses across the 17 first-round states, or follow the links below to the reviews for individual state plans:










New Jersey

New Mexico

North Dakota





Washington, D.C.

Our review was aligned to the federal peer review process, as well as tools developed by other external groups, but it differs in important ways:

  1. Our review was focused on a select number of questions and did not cover everything in state plans. 
  2. We believe compliance with federal law is necessary but insufficient for state plans. Beyond mere compliance, we also asked reviewers to assess state plans for their likelihood of success in accomplishing the state’s education vision. 
  3. The independent nature of our process allowed the team of highly experienced reviewers to candidly assess each state plan. 

In terms of methodology, after the states submitted their official plans, we brought together a bipartisan, nationally esteemed group of more than 30 education policy experts, focusing strongly on individuals with state-level experience, to review each plan in small groups. The full group also included specific content experts to address the unique challenges associated with meeting the needs of students with disabilities and English language learners.

Click here to view a full list of peer reviewers who participated in this process, including their bios. 

Reviewers used their discretion and expertise to respond to and score nine rubric items, and those scores have been normed across states and peers. (Click here for the blank rubric template our experts used). We gave states the opportunity to respond to our reviews, and that feedback is reflected in our final report. We are pleased that all 16 states and the District of Columbia responded to our peer review and nearly all engaged in an exchange that resulted in substantive feedback. States clarified portions of their plans and provided additional information to refine our analysis. 

Importantly, these reviews represent a snapshot in time; that is, they reflect the quality of state plans as submitted to the federal government. As of this writing, the federal process is ongoing, and states are likely to make changes to their plans up until they earn approval (and even beyond, as they begin implementing their plans).

We hope the reviews can help these states continue to improve their plans going forward, and that the 34 states that have yet to submit their plans can learn from their peers. Ultimately, this project aims to provide actionable feedback on the quality of state plans to parents, educators, state policymakers, and advocates interested in improving their community’s schools. 

Be sure to visit to see how your state measures up using a helpful tool created by our partners at the Collaborative for Student Success.