Legislative Bill 438 was adopted into law in April 2014, changing the accountability system for schools and districts under the Quality Education Accountability Act. Nebraska engaged a wide variety of stakeholders, including parents, administrators, educators, senators, and other community members, to develop its accountability system under AQuESTT and ESSA.  In the fall of 2014, the Nebraska Department of Education and the Nebraska State Board of Education hosted six policy partner forums across the state, with over 400 stakeholders, to discuss and design the new state accountability system.

Additionally, in the development of Nebraska’s ESSA plan, multiple stakeholder groups were convened to provide feedback on the ­­system, its components, and how accountability information is reported and displayed.

The frequently asked questions document regarding Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) schools can be found at this link.

As a state agency, the NDE acknowledges an international history of bias and bigotry resulting in societal disparities and inequities, and the NDE commits to confronting this history by leading for educational equity. Educational equity means that all students have access to the educational resources they need at the right moment, at the right level, and with the right intensity, to not only reach high expectations for learning, but also to discover and explore their passions and make meaningful connections within the context of their postsecondary interests. Equity requires that these opportunities and outcomes exist across race, gender, ethnicity, language, disability, sexual orientation, family background, adverse events, and/or family income. Equity efforts will ensure that all students are known, heard, and supported while having access to the opportunities and resources needed to be ready for success in their post-secondary learning experiences, careers, and civic lives.

Classification is one way that Nebraska provides information about how each school and district is serving its students. The classification system helps stakeholders know where schools are excelling and where they have room to grow.

Classification is determined by adjusting a school or district’s initial status by certain factors and also considering limitations placed on how an adjustment may be earned. Nebraska is proud of its schools. In fact, 90 percent of schools are in the excellent, great, or good classification levels. The approximate percent of schools in each classification level are as follows: Excellent = 10; Great = 40; Good = 40; Needs Improvement = 10.

Nebraska will continue to classify schools and districts into four levels: excellent, great, good, and needs improvement. However, based on continuous stakeholder feedback, Nebraska wants to ensure that the classification process is fully aligned to the six tenets of AQuESTT. Status (NSCAS Mathematics and English Language Arts performance) will remain the basis for all classification. The Evidence-based Analysis (EBA) will continue to be used for eligible schools for the purposes of an upward adjustment to a classification level after a review of evidence.

Classification is not based solely on test scores. They are based on multiple measures of student success, including graduation rates, progress for English Learners, reduction in chronic absenteeism, and other measures of school quality and student success. Many stakeholders provided input on the selection of these indicators through the AQuESTT and ESSA planning processes and we look forward to continued engagement with a wide variety of stakeholders throughout implementation.

Schools that are in the lower classification levels are not “bad schools.” Rather they are schools that are in need of additional help and support to improve. Designation often also indicates significant achievement gaps for students that should be addressed. Through conversation sparked by the classification and designation processes, these schools and districts have the opportunity to engage parents and the community in developing a plan to improve their school’s performance. Conversely, schools that receive high classifications deserve credit for their accomplishments, and the lessons they have learned need to be shared across the state so that other schools can benefit.

Schools that are identified for support are eligible will receive additional resources, have the opportunity to engage parents and the community in developing a plan for improvement, and may receive additional support from the federal, state, or district levels. These schools have room to improve but they are not “bad schools.”

Schools identified for Priority Schools become the Department of Education’s priority, where resources and attention are focused for improvement.

AQuESTT imposes no new requirements for schools and districts. AQuESTT supports the requirements for school and district accreditation that are already in place.

AQuESTT does not replace the continuous school improvement process. It provides systems of support that are closely aligned with effective continuous school improvement processes that schools and districts are already implementing.

The tenets are intended to provide a framework for Nebraska’s accountability system and are associated with research-based practices of effective schools and increased student achievement. Measureable indicators of the tenets will be used to classify school and district performance and designate schools most need of assistance to improve.

The six AQuESTT tenets are Educational Opportunities and Access; Transitions; Positive Partnerships, Relationships, and Success; Educator Effectiveness; Student Achievement and Growth; and Postsecondary, Career, and Civic Readiness. The tenets represent key investments the State Board of Education believes are necessary for a quality education system. The tenets reflect effective practices for schools that will ensure success for every student.

The previous system, Nebraska Performance Accountability System (NePAS), relied solely on ranking public school and district performance on state assessments and graduation rates. AQuESTT integrates components of accountability, including performance on state assessments and graduation, school and district accreditation, college and career ready education, and the effective use of data into a system of school improvement and support.

In 2014, the Nebraska legislature enacted legislation requiring a new accountability system for public schools and districts. The new system is AQuESTT – Accountability for a Quality Education System, Today and Tomorrow. Updates were implemented in the 2017-18 school year due to the federal ESSA, updated college and career readiness standards and assessments, and the State Board Strategic Vision and Direction.

Classification provides parents with information about how their district, school, and student groups in that school are performing. Parents can use that information to engage with the school’s administrator or their student’s teachers to see what supports are available for individual students.

Schools that are not identified for support have demonstrated that they are not among the lowest performing schools in the state. Just as we know that all students, even those that are high performing, can keep growing, all schools can grow too. These schools should celebrate their performance while continuing to seek gains for all students.

Your school should be congratulated for its high performance and we encourage you to celebrate this success in your local community. While the school may not be rewarded monetarily, Nebraska is enormously proud of each school’s and student’s success. The state will highlight the work of this school so that others may learn from its example.

Before the Nebraska ESSA State Plan was passed, the state identified at least three of the lowest performing schools as Priority Schools. The Priority School designation remains in place now that the State Plan has been approved and those schools continue to receive state funding to support their improvement efforts. Additionally, under ESSA, Nebraska identifies schools for comprehensive support and improvement, or “CSI” schools, and targeted support and improvement, or “TSI” schools. These schools will receive federal funding supports.

Per ESSA law, Nebraska is required to federally designate CSI and TSI schools in addition to the designation of Priority Schools at a state level. We are not changing the state designation of Priority Schools but rather adding additional designations at the federal level.

In general, CSI schools are Title I schools with overall low performance or very low graduation rates. Nebraska considers performance on a wide variety of indicators, including those beyond test scores, to identify these schools.

TSI and ATSI schools may not have overall low performance, but they have subgroups of students that are falling behind. Nebraska considers performance on a wide variety of subgroup indicators, including those beyond test scores, to identify these schools.

Before ESSA was passed, Nebraska designated three of their lowest performing schools as Priority Schools. Under ESSA, states identify five percent of schools for comprehensive support and improvement, or “CSI” schools, and any school with an underperforming subgroup for targeted support and improvement, or “TSI” schools. Per Nebraska state law, the state will continue to name at least three Priority Schools.

Schools designated as Priority, CSI, or TSI can be from any district. Priority Schools can only come from the Needs Improvement classification level. CSI Schools can only be designated if they are receiving Title I funding. TSI Schools can be any school in any district that has consistently underperforming subgroups.

Classification and designation data is reported on the Nebraska Education Profile (NEP) for public consumption as a way for all Nebraskans to see how schools are serving their students. The accountability system as a whole drives the statewide creation of systems of support for schools to improve.

Schools that are identified for support are eligible for additional federal funds and may be eligible for additional state or local funding. It is important for these schools to think about how they can align the funds they currently receive with their school improvement plan.

Subgroup performance is used for TSI designation only, not classification. Subgroup performance is considered in the following areas: status, growth, improvement, non-proficiency, English Learners proficiency and progress, four- and seven-year cohort graduation rates, chronic absenteeism, NSCAS Science, and the Evidence-based Analysis (EBA).

All schools, even those classified as excellent, can improve. No schools in Nebraska are failing or failed. Instead, we classify our schools most needing support as “needs support for improvement.” This classification indicates to communities, the Department, ESUs, and others that innovative interventions, additional resources and attention, and focus needs to be put on these schools.

Great communities make great schools. Research shows that rich parent and community involvement in schools leads to improved student outcomes. Parents and community members can volunteer during and after school, ask questions about missing resources that could help students improve, and play an active role in their student’s education. Businesses and communities can get involved by sharing opportunities for students to get interested in careers, offering on-site apprenticeships and other rich student experiences, and donating equipment or other resources to a school. Parents and communities play a large role in the establishment of a supportive school culture, which has been shown to impact student achievement.

The NDE sees the value and worth in community partnerships so much that it was included as one of the tenets of AQuESTT.

Schools can improve their ratings in many ways. AQuESTT represents both an accountability system and a framework for support oriented around six tenets. Schools can improve by focusing on these six tenets. Examples of improvement strategies aligned to the six tenets are below:

  • Educational Opportunities and Access – Schools can analyze data to identify achievement gaps and to equitably address students needing the most support. Student needs can be addressed through technology and innovative delivery of content, project based learning, early childhood education, and expanded learning.
  • Transitions – Schools can use evidence-based strategies to create early warning indicators for students transitioning. This may include early literacy indicators and high school warning indicators that indicate students at risk of dropping out.
  • Positive Partnerships, Relationships, and Success – Schools can cultivate partnerships with community organizations and parents to improve their school cultures. Evidence has shown that positive school cultures reduce chronic absenteeism.


  • Educator Effectiveness – Schools can use an evidence-based teacher evaluation tool to effectively identify gaps in teacher knowledge and create plans to address these gaps through professional development.
  • Student Achievement and Growth – Schools can use assessment tools to analyze data and create personalized learning plans for students to improve.
  • Postsecondary, Career, and Civic Readiness – By partnering with businesses in the community, schools can offer rich career experiences leading to increased student achievement. Additionally, schools can partner with postsecondary institutions to offer rigorous, early-postsecondary coursework like dual credit and dual enrollment.

The NDE has the responsibility to improve the schools in the Needs Improvement category. Additionally, schools designated Priority Schools have three years to improve or additional actions may be taken including alternative administrative structures and/or revised progress plans.

For a look at each AQuESTT indicator and its purpose, how the indicators combine to create the accountability system, and how the system sets up expansion of indicators in the future, see the link below.

Indicators in AQuESTT

The state uses what are known as business rules to set points at which a school receives a classification. These business rules determine the level at which schools must perform for each indicator. Indicators are categorized into the six tenets of AQuESTT, with each indicator leading to a positive or negative classification adjustment. Schools receive an initial classification based on their ELA and math scores, then further adjustments for each tenet based on the business rules.

Finally, this raw classification is further adjusted based on the results of the Evidence-Based Analysis tool. Each school submits responses to the EBA, and those schools eligible for adjustments submit evidence of their policies, procedures, or protocols. This evidence is judged against a rubric. Schools that meet requirements receive an additional adjustment.

Beginning in 2019, no school can be classified as Excellent if it is classified as a Targeted Support and Improvement school, indicating low performance by student subgroups.

When all the pieces come together, schools are classified as Needs Improvement, Good, Great, or Excellent.

Classification provides parents with information about how their district, school, and student groups in that school are performing. Parents can use that information to engage with the school’s administrator or their student’s teachers to see what supports are available for individual students.

The AQuESTT system was developed to represent multiple data sources and indicators of student achievement. Every school in the state is different, and every school can improve. Every school creates a school improvement plan as part of their accreditation process. Lower performance on certain indicators, like chronic absenteeism, science, or growth, shows that those areas should be focus areas for the school improvement plan. Having multiple indicators allows schools to more strategically focus their attention and resources for improvement.

Parents and the community play an integral part in school improvement. Parents and the community members should talk with school leaders to collaboratively develop strategies for community support in schools.