Accountability Matters for All Students

Learn more about Anne Wicks.
Anne Wicks
Ann Kimball Johnson Director, Education and Opportunity
George W. Bush Institute

Accountability doesn’t just matter for low-performing students and schools. It matters to ensure that all students have the opportunity to learn and succeed.

What sometimes gets lost in discussing school accountability is that the concept applies to all students. Far too often, accountability is seen as a punitive, finger-wag of a tool designed to shame underperformers and relentlessly test students.

But school accountability simply means measuring the progress of all students against rigorous standards and assigning consequences to the results. It is a means to an end – that end being academic success for all students – not an end unto itself.

Accountability doesn’t just matter for low-performing students and schools. It matters to ensure that all students – English language learners, students living in poverty, gifted students, special education students, average students – have the opportunity to learn and succeed. Indeed, accountability systems can be a powerful tool to ensure that students at all levels receive the right interventions in key subjects such as reading and math.

All students includes high-performing students and their schools. For example, an effective accountability system that tracks growth for all groups of students would also measure the progress of high-performing students. Are those children continuing to excel and progress over time? Do they have opportunities to go further, faster?

High-performing students attend all kinds of schools, not just the high-performing ones. Because those students are likely to meet proficiency standards without special supports, they can be easy to overlook when many of their peers need significant classroom intervention. But, it is important that we ask ourselves what we are doing to help those young people maximize their abilities and interests.

Annual, independent exams are also a key part of accountability for all students. Tests provide schools and parents with consistent information about whether students are below, at, or above grade level and if they are on track for postsecondary success. The exams show educators and parents where interventions are needed to help students succeed.

Similarly, a solid accountability system lets us know if the classes that students take align with the standards the state considers necessary for postsecondary success.  If schools are meeting those standards, then great. But if they are not aligned, a district or state can start applying resources to get on track.

Over the next few months, I will be reporting more on what school accountability can mean for all students. The Bush Institute is now engaged in a series of interviews with educators, policymakers, and others on this subject, so I will share more thoughts as we go along.

Meanwhile, it’s important to remember that accountability is not a tool for some students. It is a tool for all students.