NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Making Accountability Systems Accountable

September 24, 2002

The No Child Left Behind Act requires states to develop a plan to begin testing all students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and in high school. However, there is no guarantee that the strict accountability provisions of the new law will promote student achievement or improve poor schools -- and could even produce some negative results, experts say.

Consequently, they have some recommendations for maximizing the benefits and minimizing the harm of test-based accountability systems.

  • Monitor the extent of score inflation, which is likely to depend on the specific features of each state's testing program, such as whether the same test items are used year after year.
  • Consider expanding "what counts" in their accountability systems to include more than just reading and math.
  • The overall testing burden could be limited by varying the subjects and grade levels over time and by using sampling approaches that do not require every student to take every test or answer every question.
  • Create student information systems to track the test scores of individual students over time, thus allowing the states to monitor the progress of individuals, whether they remain in the same schools or transfer to different schools.

The new federal law has many attractive features, but it contains inadequate provisions for review and improvement to help it perform as intended. To make sure that no child is left behind and to make the accountability systems work better, the systems need to be monitored for failure or success, researchers say.

Source: Brian M. Stecher and Laura S. Hamilton, "Putting Theory to the Test: Making Accountability Systems Accountable," Rand Review, Spring 2002, RAND Corporation.


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