Accountability is a critical aspect of standards-based reform. The rationale for accountability systems is the belief that education can be improved when clear standards for student achievement are communicated to students and educators, achievement toward those standards is measured, and appropriate consequences are linked to levels of student achievement (see Table 3). The intent of these accountability systems is to promote change among schools in ways that will increase positive outcomes for all students.
Table 3. Philosophy of Accountability and Standards-based Reform
"…the idea of standards based reform states that, if states set high standards for student performance, develop assessments that measure students performance against the standards, give schools the flexibility they need to change the curriculum, instruction, and school organization to enable their students to meet the standards and hold schools strictly accountable for meeting performance standards, then student achievement will rise."
(National Research Council, 1999, p. 15)
This theory of action of standards-based reform is expanded to reflect an education improvement system that includes professional development and improved teaching.
All states are now implementing accountability plans that focus on the system, with consequences assigned to schools, administrators, teachers, and other educators. Some states, but not all, are also using student accountability mechanisms designed to motivate students to do their best. It is now clear that system accountability must apply to everyone in the educational system, including students with disabilities and English language learners. Because schools are likely to target resources toward those students who are included in the determination of rewards and sanctions, a potential consequence of failing to include students with disabilities in accountability systems is that their instructional needs will not be addressed or met.
Putting It All Together
By putting together the essential components of inclusive assessment systems, educational systems can reach a point where each and every student can benefit from standards-based reforms. Each piece of the puzzle is critical and must be addressed to successfully complete the picture and achieve the desired results. The inter-relationships among the components–participation, accommodation, alternate assessment, reporting, and accountability policies–must be considered carefully, along with the intended and unintended consequences of various relationships.
2003 State Special Education Outcomes: Marching Forward. Thompson, S., & Thurlow, M. (2003). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes.
Alternate Assessments for Students with Disabilities. Thompson, S., Quenemoen, R., Thurlow, M., & Ysseldyke, J. (2000). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
NCEO Online Accommodations Bibliography. Available at http://apps.cehd.umn.edu/nceo/accommodations/.
Principles and Characteristics of Inclusive Assessment and Accountability Systems (Synthesis Report 40). Thurlow, M., Quenemoen, R., Thompson, S., & Lehr, C. (2001). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes. See http://education.umn.edu/nceo/OnlinePubs/Synthesis40.html
A Self-study Guide to Implementation of Inclusive Assessment and Accountability Systems: A Best Practice Approach. Quenemoen, R.F., Thompson, S.J., Thurlow, M.L., & Lehr, C.A. (2001). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes. See http://education.umn.edu/nceo/OnlinePubs/workbook.pdf
Testing Students with Disabilities: Practical Strategies for Complying with District and State Requirements (2nd ed.). Thurlow, M.L., Elliott, J.L., & Ysseldyke, J.E. (2003). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Testing, Teaching and Learning: A Guide for States and School Districts. National Research Council (1999). Washington, DC: Author.
This document was produced by the National Center on Educational Outcomes through a Cooperative Agreement (#H326G050007) with the Research to Practice Division, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. Additional support for targeted projects, including those on LEP students, is provided by other federal and state agencies. Opinions expressed in this document do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Education or Offices within it.