The following examples come from two states that have shown the largest gains in performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress—North Carolina and Texas. In each state, accountability has created incentives for improvement. North Carolina's system links accountability directly to improvement for low-performing schools; Texas's system encourages schools to direct their efforts at improving education for all students.

Under North Carolina's accountability system, known as the ABCs of Public Education, the state measures student performance on the state assessment and creates an “expected growth” composite for each school based on statewide average growth and the previous performance of students in the school. The state then adjusts the results statistically to compare student performance from one year to the next.

Schools are designated as “low-performing” if less than 50 percent of their students achieve standards, which is defined as at or above grade level in reading, mathematics, and writing. Low-performing schools are assigned assistance teams of educators who work with school staffs to align the curriculum to state standards.

The state also recognizes schools that have large percentages of high-performing students, or that demonstrate large gains in performance. Schools that meet their expected growth standard and have at least 90 percent of students performing at or above grade level (in K-8) or at above Achievement Level III (in high school) are designated as Schools of Excellence and are recognized at a state luncheon and receive cash awards. Schools with 80 percent of students at or above grade level of Achievement Level III are designated Schools of Distinction. Schools that show exemplary gains—10 percent or more above the statewide average—receive cash awards; the 25 schools that gained the greatest amount are honored at a statewide luncheon. Schools must test at least 95 percent of the student body (98 percent in K-8 schools) in order to be eligible for recognition.

In Texas, students and teachers know that the TAAS (the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills) matters. The tests play a central role in the state accountability system, for students and institutions. Under state law, students must pass each section of the exit-level exam in order to graduate from high school. Students may retake any part of the test they do not pass; students now can take the test up to eight times. When the full battery of end-of-course exams is implemented, students may be able to graduate by passing these tests, rather than the TAAS.

The tests matter to schools and districts, too, because they are judged in large part on their ability to enable students to pass the test. The state has developed an elaborate accountability rating

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