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New system to gauge school performance aims to take more than test scores into account

New system to gauge school performance aims to take more than test scores into account

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An ambitious new system to gauge Nebraska’s school performance will offer those schools a “blueprint” for improving and give educators better information about what works and what doesn’t, according to Nebraska Department of Education officials.

“We are taking responsibility for the quality of schools across the state,” Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt. “And you know what? It’s about time.”

The new system, called Accountability of a Quality Education System Today and Tomorrow (AQuESTT), has been in the works for over a year and when it is rolled out in December will classify all schools at one of four levels from “excellent” to “needs improvement.”

The system, mandated by state law, also will identify the three lowest-performing schools, and a state-led team will develop a plan to help them improve. A total of $750,000 will be available from the state to implement those three plans, the state board members learned Thursday.

Although the bulk of a school or district’s classification will be based on test scores, improvement and growth from year to year, and graduation rate, other factors also will be considered.

In August, state education officials will try out the system using 2013-14 test scores. It won't be made public, but will give schools an idea of how they rate, and will give state officials a chance to make changes if necessary.

And when the real classifications are released in December, they will also be based on additional practices at the schools.

Those factors, officials said, are an attempt to take a broader, more holistic approach to evaluating how well schools are performing.

It's holding schools accountable not just for student achievement, but also for how well they go beyond minimum state accreditation standards, said Board President Rachel Wise. 

The factors will be based on requirements all schools must now meet for accreditation, such as having curriculum aligned with state standards. 

State education officials are still trying to iron out what factors they'll use to help classify schools. 

But by November, schools will be asked to fill out a survey rating how well they perform on them.

“It puts weight on the continuous improvement process in a good way,” Blomstedt said. “It’s no longer about minimum standards -- you are doing enough to be open. You’re talking about quality. It’s a whole different conversation.”

Board member Glen Flint of Springfield said he’d like to see the state identify not just the lowest-performing schools, but exemplary ones because they could be models for other schools.

Board member Maureen Nickels, of Chapman, said comparing urban and rural school districts could be problematic because they have such different resources.

Blomstedt said he hopes the system will give state officials and schools  more information about what practices work the best and what factors make the biggest difference.

The intervention plans for the lowest performing schools will be individualized, and the state intervention team will decide when the school has improved sufficiently.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all model like the feds,” said Brian Halstead, assistant education commissioner.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or


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Local government reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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