NCEO - National Center on Educational Outcomes

Accountability for Students with Disabilities


The term "accountability" is central to efforts in standards-based reform. Accountability typically refers to an individual or a group of individuals taking responsibility for the performance of students on achievement assessments or other types of educational outcomes (e.g., graduation rates). States and districts develop assessments that produce reliable and valid results for accountability purposes. These include assessments of how well schools are supporting student achievement of high standards. These assessments make up the state and district accountability system and are used to report to the public and to build school improvement plans. It is important to include students with disabilities in these measures.

There may be two kinds of accountability in state or district systems, student accountability and system accountability. Student accountability assigns responsibility to the student. System accountability assigns responsibility to the educational system or individuals within that system. In recent years, accountability requirements have increased as part of school reform. These increased requirements are called "high stakes" accountability. All states have some type of high stakes system accountability, but not all states have high stakes student accountability. States often use evidence from state and district assessments for accountability.

One use of assessment evidence for high stakes student accountability is to determine whether a student receives a standard high school diploma. Another example of student accountability is to use test results to determine whether a student will move from one grade to another. Student accountability is designed to motivate students to do their best and teachers to support student efforts.

Assessment evidence often is used for system accountability. Federal education laws require states to use assessment results for school and district accountability. Some of the states and districts also use assessment results for their own accountability systems. System accountability is designed to motivate educators to improve educational programs.

The participation of students with disabilities in these systems creates unique challenges. Both system and student accountability can have unintended negative consequences as well as the intended positive consequences. Many of the negative consequences occur when students with disabilities are excluded from these systems.