The Path Forward for School Accountability: Practical Ways to Improve School Accountability Systems Now

The last few years have produced a groundswell of interest in improving our school accountability systems. Some suggest it’s necessary to fine-tune current practices, while others advocate sweeping reforms that pave the way for entirely different approaches. A range of perspectives fall between these ends of the continuum, but support for the status quo is rare.

Criticism of accountability isn’t new; it emerged shortly after No Child Left Behind was enacted in 2001, and continued after its successor, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed in 2015. That criticism intensified in 2020, driven by two unprecedented crises: COVID-related school closures and a national reckoning with systemic racism. Together, those forces fueled a collective urgency to improve current school accountability practices.

Without refuting calls for sweeping reforms, this paper explores practical strategies for improving accountability now, within or alongside ESSA’s requirements.

The paper describes the problems with accountability and details five ways to improve it:

  • Developing a comprehensive theory of action
  • Employing a principled design process
  • Supporting customized approaches
  • Measuring more of what matters
  • Connecting information to support

By focusing on improvements that are possible right now, the authors affirm the urgency of taking swift action to improve accountability.