NCEO - National Center on Educational Outcomes

Accountability for English Language Learners


The term “accountability” is central to efforts in standards-based reform. Accountability has been defined in various ways, but typically refers to an individual or group of individuals taking responsibility for the performance of students on achievement measures or other types of educational outcomes (e.g., dropout rates). States and districts have been working to develop reliable and valid indicators for accountability, including indicators of how schools are doing in helping all students achieve high standards. These indicators make up the state and district accountability system, and are generally used to report progress to the public and to build school improvement plans. The extent to which students with limited English proficiency are included in these indicators is a topic requiring attention.

Within state or district systems, there may be two kinds of accountability. One kind assigns responsibility to the student (student accountability) and the other assigns responsibility to the educational system or individuals within that system (system accountability). All states have some type of system accountability, but not all states have student accountability.

Today the consequences of accountability systems are becoming more significant, often referred to as “high stakes.” States are more often relying on evidence from state and district assessments to determine high stakes. The most common use of assessment evidence for student stakes is to determine whether a student receives a standard high school diploma. Another type of student accountability, appearing with increasing frequency, determines whether a student will move from one grade to another. This latter type has emerged under the banner of “no social promotion.”

System accountability is designed to improve educational programs, whereas student accountability is designed to motivate students to do their best. Both types of accountability can have unintended negative consequences as well as the intended positive consequences.

Clearly, there is much controversy and confusion surrounding accountability issues, especially when it comes to including English language learners. There is significant need for dialogue and further consideration of issues.