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Accountability: Then and Now

Written by NCLD Policy Team | November 4, 2015

Recently, we shared 5 Ways School Accountability Supports Student Success, and now we look at accountability from the past, present and future perspectives.  


 

Looking back: An unfortunate past

Before No Child Left Behind (NCLB) (the latest version of ESEA – the nation’s largest education law) was passed in 2001, there was no reliable way to know how students with disabilities were performing in schools across the country.  Before NCLB, schools were able to mask the performance of students with disabilities by simply reporting the average performance of all students in a school. This meant that the scores of top performers in a school or district could bring up the scores of underperforming, often disadvantaged students so that the school average, as a whole, appeared good.

As a result, parents never knew how groups of students – such as those with disabilities – were really doing in school compared to their peers. And schools never had a reason to identify achievement gaps or focus interventions on students who were not doing as well as they could have or should have.

Reflecting on today: Every student counts

As a direct result of NCLB and its accountability provisions, students with disabilities participated in the general statewide assessment and, for the first time, their scores mattered.

After students take the statewide assessment each year, their performance is reported at the school, district, and state levels. What’s more is that these results are disaggregated by subgroup, meaning we can now see how students with disabilities as a whole are doing, how English learners, low-income students, and students of a particular race or ethnic group are performing. The system became more transparent; no longer were averages hiding low-performance.

Most importantly, when the data shows that an entire school or any subgroup of students within a school – such as students with disabilities – are not performing where they are expected to, schools are required to take steps toward improvement. Federal law requires schools to set goals and make changes that will improve student outcomes. Because of NCLB, every student matters.

What does this mean for parents?

Parents of children with disabilities in schools today have had the fortunate experience of only knowing a system that emphasizes this transparency. Because of NCLB, schools must consider all students and make changes in schools where students with disabilities (or other subgroups of students) are not doing well. Parents don’t need to fight this battle for their children because schools are already required to consider student performance, identify gaps, and improve outcomes.

There is a powerful two-pronged approach at play today: IDEA offers parents of students with disabilities important rights and protections and NCLB ensures that their child’s school will care about performance and take action that will improve outcomes for their student. Federal law paves the path for parents to have a seat at the table where they are an equal member of the team working hard to help their student. Without this accountability, parents would have more of an uphill battle to get their child what is needed.

Looking ahead: An uncertain future

To put it simply, our existing accountability structure is at risk. Some policymakers want to dilute it and others want to eliminate it completely. If they do, it could mean that there is no one focusing on how students with disabilities are doing, leaving parents to find themselves having to convince schools to pay more attention to how students with disabilities are doing.

NCLD is continuing the fight to keep strong accountability in a new ESEA and is joining the 97% of you who told us in our recent survey that you support accountability.

If you’re a parent who expects your school, district, and state to value your child and relies on the existing system and give you a seat at the table in your school, you can make a difference by telling your Member of Congress not to abandon accountability in our schools.

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