The United States education system has experienced an evolution of school accountability systems that has led to changes and variation in state school grading systems. This study shows that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015, a recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, provides greater autonomy to individual states in evaluating and reporting school accountability than in preceding years and provides opportunities for states to implement a more holistic or well-rounded approach to school grading. ESSA policy and this study encourages states to choose to evaluate schools more holistically by implementing a wider and more balanced range of indicators that are used to formulate publicly reported school grades. Many issues and historical events, both in the nation and in Utah, are shared to show their influence on the evolution of school accountability. The relevant components of ESSA are explored. An historical overview of school accountability, standardized testing, school grading, and public educational reporting in the state of Utah is included. Scholarly perspectives about school accountability and reporting systems are also presented. This descriptive study incorporates archival research through a review of grades K-8 school grading systems. The school report card systems and indicators are collected and compared from two sequential time periods: first, the time period after NCLB and before ESSA plans were approved is referred, and second, the current time period, based off of data from currently implemented state ESSA plans. Data from all 50 states and Washington D.C. are analyzed and contrasted with Utah's data. Special focus is placed on the indicators that are not dictated by the federal government but those which are chosen by the state that promote a more holistic measure of accountability. The results from this study show that while a more holistic approach to school grading across the states has resulted from ESSA implementation, Utah's ESSA plan and school grading system, along with the other 49 states and Washington D.C., do not currently reflect an adequate holistic measure of school accountability. State Legislators and State School Board Members will find this study to be enlightening as they create more holistic school grading systems.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Educational Leadership and Foundations



Date Submitted


Document Type





education, school accountability, Every Student Succeeds Act, differentiation, school report card, holistic