Accountability provisions in the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) call for system accountability to hold schools and districts responsible for the performance of students. Students with disabilities (including English learners with disabilities and students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who participate in the alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards – the AA-AAAS), should be included in accountability systems. States sometimes have their own accountability system for schools and districts.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs’ (OSEP) accountability system, Results Driven Accountability (RDA), monitors and supports states’ implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Assessment participation and performance of students with disabilities are components of RDA.

In addition to system accountability, some states and districts have educator accountability systems. Educator accountability holds teachers, principals, and other educators accountable for the performance of students. States and districts that develop educator evaluation systems must ensure that the evaluation systems support valid and reliable results and interpretations of the growth of students with disabilities, English learners, and English learners with disabilities. Educator evaluation systems should include results for all of these students, including those who participate in the AA-AAAS. Special educators and teachers of English learners have unique roles and responsibilities that need to be recognized when the systems are developed.

A third type of accountability is student accountability. Student accountability holds students responsible for their own learning. For example, some states have graduation tests that are designed to ensure that students can demonstrate knowledge and skills needed after high school. Additionally, some states use tests to determine whether elementary students can demonstrate literacy knowledge and skills needed to meet the state’s reading goals.

Students with disabilities (including those with the most significant cognitive disabilities), English learners, and English learners with disabilities (including English learners with the most significant cognitive disabilities) should be included in all aspects of accountability. Past history showed that when excluded, these students suffered many unintended consequences such as watered-down curricula and less instructional attention. This often resulted in depressed progress through school and failure to achieve positive post-school outcomes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Business and postsecondary education communities have argued for the high school diploma to mean that students have specific knowledge and skills. There are a variety of ways to ensure that earning a diploma is meaningful. When student accountability is based on an exam, as well as coursework requirements, it is critical that the assessment be appropriate for all students. This means that the test must be developed to be universally accessible. The test must also allow needed accommodations. Finally, the test must provide students with a variety of ways to demonstrate that they have the needed knowledge and skills.

There are potential unintended and negative consequences of student accountability measures. It is important to ensure that all students have the opportunity to learn before they are held accountable for achieving those standards through graduation requirements.