Publications & Resources

The Practical Relevance of Accountability Systems for School Improvement: A Descriptive Analysis of California Schools

Apr 2007

Heinrich Mintrop and Tina Trujillo

In search for the practical relevance of accountability systems for school improvement, we ask whether practitioners traveling between the worlds of system-designated high and low-performing schools would detect tangible differences by observing concrete behaviors, looking at student work, or inquiring about teacher, administrator, or student perceptions. Would they see real differences in educational quality? Would they find schools that are truly more effective? In this study, we compare nine exceptionally high and low performing urban middle schools within the California accountability system. Traversing the nine schools, our travelers would learn that schools that grew on the state performance indicator tended to generate internal commitment for the accountability system. They eschewed the coercive aspects of accountability, maintained a climate of open communication, and considered the system as an impetus for raising expectations and work standards. On the instructional side, this commitment translated into the forceful implementation of structured language arts and literacy programs that were aligned with the accountability system. If our travelers expected to encounter visible signs of an overall higher quality of students’ educational experience in the highperforming schools, they would be disappointed. Rather they would have to settle on a much narrower definition of quality that homes in on attitudes and behaviors that are quite proximate to the effective acquisition of standards-aligned and test-relevant knowledge.

Mintrop, H., & Trujillo, T. (2007). The practical relevance of accountability systems for school improvement: A descriptive analysis of California schools (CSE Report 713). Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).