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Focus School Accountability on Results

• Patricia Levesque

Stock Photo: Children Standing in Classroom


This is the second installment in a series by ExcelinEd CEO Patricia Levesque, designed to give states guidance on how they can use the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to advance student achievement.

Read the first post School Accountability Under ESSA.

To maximize its effectiveness, an accountability formula needs to follow some basic principles.

Chief among them is this: Focus on results, not on how they are achieved.

By this we mean wrap the accountability formula solely around outcomes, defined as objective measures of student achievement, growth and graduation rates.

Test scores, of course, are significant indicators of success. They tell us two things—how many students are achieving proficiency in the tested subjects and the progress they are making from one year to the next. Both are important to ensure students are on a path to graduation and, beyond that, ready for life after high school.

The details behind these outcomes—class sizes, funding, attendance rates, classes offered, school environment and so on—give information on how the results may have been achieved and whether the school’s culture is a good fit for a particular child. These “inputs’’ should be compiled and made available to parents in a simple, well-designed school report card.

But trying to include inputs in accountability formulas becomes overly burdensome on local districts and, in turn, on principals and teachers. It gets into state micromanagement of schools with a one-size-fits-all approach.

A state should run its schools like a successful CEO runs a large corporation. Lay down the expectations, expect them to be met, but allow the different divisions flexibility in how they achieve them in their individual markets.

Reinforcing this approach is the fact that various inputs may or may not have a direct impact on student performance.

If a school has small classes, should it be given credit on the accountability formula even though students are languishing below proficiency without making the learning gains necessary to rise to that level? Or, on the other hand, should a school producing excellent results be penalized if its classes are larger?

Local administrators, principals and teachers are most qualified to make decisions on how best to meet their performance goals, not state policymakers.

Bogging down an accountability formula with inputs can also hide or dilute poor outcomes and confuse parents who need a bottom line answer on whether their children are in a school where their learning outcomes are likely to increase.

Complete transparency for parents should be the goal. Outcomes should be compiled into a cumulative score—such as an A-F letter grade—that gives parents a quick, overall snapshot of school quality.

That score then encourages parents to delve deeper into the school’s report card, looking at student performance in core subjects such as reading, math and science. And from there they can explore the “inputs’’ behind the results.

In this manner, parents get all the information they need and educators get the freedom and flexibility to focus on what matters most.

For more resources and information concerning the Every Student Succeeds Act, visit ExcelinEd’s Policy Library.

About the author

Patricia Levesque @levesquepat

Patricia is the Chief Executive Officer for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. She served as Governor Jeb Bush’s deputy chief of staff for education, enterprise solutions for government, minority procurement, and business and professional regulation. Previously, Patricia served six years in the Florida Legislature in the Speakers Office and as staff director over education policy. Contact Patricia at