The Federal Role in Education: Considerations for ESEA Reauthorization

Reading List: Accountability in ESEA

Overview of NCLB Accountability

For an overview of NCLB’s accountability provisions, please see the introduction of the National Assessment of Title I, Final Report: Volume I: Implementation in the "NCLB Overview and Implementation” tab.


**Taylor, J., Stecher, B., O’Day, J., Naftel, S., & Le Floch, K. (2010). State and local implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act. Volume IX: Accountability under NCLB (Executive Summary). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, Policy and Program Studies Service. Available at

The report describes the findings from two federally-funded evaluations of the implementation of NCLB's accountability provisions through 2006-07. The studies find that three-quarters of the nation's schools met AYP in 2005-06. However, the numbers and percentages of schools and districts identified for improvement varied considerably across states, in part due to state standards, assessments, and AYP targets. By 2006-07, all states had met NCLB requirements for content standards and were making progress towards the assessment for all students in all required grades; nearly all states reported that they had implemented English language proficiency (ELP) assessments aligned with ELP standards. Authors report that systems of support in states and districts were also evolving to meet NCLB requirements and school needs.

Stecher, B.M., Epstein, S., Hamilton, L.S., Marsh, J.A., Robyn, A., McCombs, J.S., Russell, J., & Naftel, S. (2008). Pain and gain: Implementing No Child Left Behind in three states, 2004-2006 (Chapter 2). Santa Monica, CA: RAND. Avaialable at

This study examines the strategies used to implement standards-based accountability by states, districts and schools under NCLB in the years 2004-06. Chapter 2 uses interview and survey data from the state, district, and school level to examine the implementation of standards-based accountability in California, providing background on California’s system and analyzing how districts, schools and teachers have responded to the state’s accountability efforts. It also reports the school improvement strategies most frequently used and perceived to be useful. The authors then examine the impact of accountability on curriculum, teacher practice, and student learning and document conditions that hindered improvement efforts.

Approaches to Accountability

Center on Education Policy (2009). Mining the opportunities in “differentiated accountability”: Lessons from the No Child Left Behind pilots in four states. Washington, DC: Author. Available at

The authors in this article explore pilots of “differentiated accountability” systems in four states that had the freedom to vary the intensity of interventions based on the reasons that led to a school’s identification for improvement and to target interventions for schools with the greatest need. They find that all four states designed accountability frameworks that differed from their past frameworks, altering the classification of struggling schools and examining the reasons that some schools failed to make progress. In addition, all four states utilized some form of needs assessments to identify needs; all states have developed their accountability pilots to monitor their most needy schools. However, officials in these four states had varying views of the impact of differentiated accountability. Building on lessons learned in the differentiated accountability pilot, the authors provide three recommendations for the revision of accountability systems.

Mintrop, H., & Sunderman, G. L. (2009). Why high stakes accountability sounds good but doesn’t work—and why we keep on doing it anyway. Los Angeles, CA: The Civil Rights Project. Available at

This article explores the feasibility of an accountability system based on the imposition of sanctions. Using the context of NCLB, the article surveys whether the system produces the expected outcomes, whether the system is practical or if it can be implemented, and whether the system is legitimate and can be valued by those who implement it. The authors conclude that fifteen years of federal and state sanctions-driven accountability has yielded relatively little in terms of improving student achievement and creating high-quality schools, and examine the costs of maintaining such system. Finally, they argue that a redesign of the accountability system should start from four principles: a system should reflect the complexity of the task by allowing multiple measures; policies should provide more comprehensive investments in student welfare; policies should create ambitious goals for capacity building across schools and districts; and overreliance on sanctions can be reduced when policies foster partnerships and adhere to the professional values and standards of educators.

U.S. Department of Education. (2009 January 15). Evaluation of the 2005-06 growth model pilot program. Washington, DC: Author. Available at this link.

The study by the U.S. Department of Education examines whether growth models in Tennessee and North Carolina provided another accurate measure of school progress in raising student achievement and looks at the impact on school AYP determinations in the 2005-06 school year. The report finds that application of the growth models had minimal impact on the accountability determinations within each state, suggesting that states can effectively implement growth models and that growth models can produce valid accountability determinations of school performance. The report calls for evaluation of the relative merits of various growth model approaches, as well as further study on the impact of growth models within state accountability systems.

**This document is considered a priority reading.