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Help Has Arrived!: Banishing NCLB’s Narrow Paradigm

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How can we banish NCLB’s top-down and narrow paradigm? Here is how you do it…

Accountability should foster collective community goals.

In education, there are many measures of student success from school entry through graduation and beyond.

Here are Community-Based Accountability Executive Summary and Key Features. Please forward and circulate widely. These are living documents and will be revised as feedback and comments occur.

I am giddy, are you ready for a new idea for accountability that emphasizes local control?

I have included the Key Features of Community-Based Accountability below.

Birth of Accountability

  • Texas was one of the earlier states to develop statewide testing systems during the 1980s. The state adopted minimum competency tests for school graduation in 1987.
  • SB 7 mandated the creation of the Texas accountability system and was implemented in 1994— it utilized test scores and other measures of student progress to determine whether school districts should remain accredited by the state. From 1995-1999, Texas test-based accountability expanded to the school level under Governor George W. Bush.
  • President George W. Bush chose Rod Paige as his first Secretary of Education. They enacted No Child Left Behind in 2001.

Has Top-Down Accountability Worked?

  • Texas has completed nearly two decades of high-stakes testing and accountability.
  • The report Texas leading its peers and the nation?: A Decadal Analysis of Educational Data reported that over the past decade Texas dropped 21 spots in 4th grade math, four spots in 4th grade reading, and eight spots in 8th grade reading. Texas did improve its standing in 8th grade math, moving from 22nd to 18th.
  • Waivers are occurring because NCLB will not close the achievement gap in the United States by 2014.
  • The current design of testing and accountability has created disillusionment amongst many former supporters of No Child Left Behind.
  • Accountability should foster collective bottom-up local goals, rather than a top-down one-size-fits-all approach.

A New Idea for Educational Policy 

  • CBA involves a process where superintendents, school boards, school staff, parents, students and community stakeholders set short-term and long-term goals based on their local priorities.
  • CBA strategic plan statements developed at the local-level would serve as alternatives to NCLB’s intense focustop-down, one-size-fits-all policy. It would enable local communities to focus on the outcomes that really matter in addition to test scores (i.e. career readiness, college readiness, safety).
  • This new form of accountability would allow for communities to drive a locally based approach that focuses on a set of measures of educational quality for their one-year, five-year, and ten-year goals.
  • State and federal government role would be to calculate baselines, growth, and yearly ratings (Recognized, Low-Performing etc.) for the goals that communities select in a democratic process.

Community-Based Accountability Process

For those invested in educational reform, there is a strong movement toward more community-based involvement. The belief is that by engaging local leaders and resources, schools can be made stronger by leveraging what is locally available and therefore, more meaningful, familiar, and tailored to the wants and needs of the community.

The goal of CBA is a community engagement for the greatest benefits of its citizens. In education there are many measures of student success from school entry through graduation and beyond. In general, the goals of CBA are relatively straightforward: students enter school ready to learn, they achieve proficiency in core subjects, they successfully graduate from high school and pursue some form of postsecondary work or study, they are safe and healthy throughout their school years, they live in stable communities, their families and community members are involved in their success and they are prepared with 21st century skills.

How to achieve these goals is different for each community. To accommodate the development of CBA goals, local communities must be prepared to build and access capacity to engage in a community process in order to create short-term and long-term goals for the community. CBA would likely require a lead agency (school board, non-profit, etc.) convened by local elected officials to fulfill the mandate of the community via a democratic process. This lead agency should be representative of the community and be prepared to implement its direction. The process can include:

  • Those leading the community process have standing in the community and are viewed as representative leaders.
  • Infrastructure will be developed to convene members of the community to engage in educational discussions.
  • Those involved have the ability and knowledge necessary to make decisions on educational issues for the community or engage experts when necessary.
  • There is a commitment to bring in whatever resources are needed to fulfill the community’s direction and goals.
  • Members of the community are engaged in and feel represented by the lead agency and the community process.

  Community-Based Accountability Measures

Career Readiness

An important measure of success is the career readiness of graduates. The business community will likely be involved in the process of determining which types of training are important for schools in their community. Career readiness goals are important as it is probable that the business community will strategically contribute resources needed to reach the goals if they have had some say in the process of developing career readiness goals.

Potential areas of measurement: Associate degrees earned; career and technology licenses or certifications earned; and salary and employment upon completion of career and technology program.

Community Engagement

Members of the community are valuable resource in gauging the success of local schools. Feedback from stakeholders in the community serves as an opportunity for local schools to understand their successes and failures.  Independently conducted local surveys for example, could be utilized to involve the community in evaluating success and failures to ensure that local schools are addressing the needs of both the students and the community they serve.

Potential areas of measurement: Community agency partners; community outreach; community satisfaction surveys; mentorship programs; parental involvement; PTA/SDMC; and social services availability.


Research demonstrates that high performing schools are characterized as environments where students come first, high expectations exist for all learners, and teachers utilize rich instructional activities.  Communities want their students to have a core of knowledge that surpasses memorized facts to include working literacies in mathematics, science, language arts, and social studies.  Creating situational understanding of the strengths and weaknesses in available curriculum offers community members a stake in the goal setting processes of public education accountability.

Potential areas of measurement: Class size; class type (e.g. advanced, regular); citizenship and civics curriculum; college credit hours; course offerings by campus; diverse and exploratory course offerings; dual credit; ESL and bilingual programs; graduation plan; non-campus-based instruction; Pre-K program type; volunteer and community outreach programs.

Educator Quality

Educators are responsible for managing students effectively and efficiently with the goal of high student achievement. Research has shown a correlation in a student’s achievement and the teacher that they were assigned. In addition, poor teacher quality translates to loss of taxpayer’s money when a child’s education is threatened. The high quality teacher measures required by NCLB are woefully inadequate for the public to understand educator quality. Educator quality is often cited in research as the single biggest factor in the success of a student.

Potential areas of measurement for educator quality: Attrition rates; certification (e.g. traditional or alternatively certified); degree level, degreed subject (e.g. online, state, or private); ESL certified/ESL Supplemental/Special Ed Certified/GT Certified; inter and intra district transfers; high-quality optional professional development offered; student success (e.g. grade retention, dropout, discipline, college & career readiness, etc.); National Board Certification; teaching within field (e.g. composite/single subject); and years of service.

Potential areas of measurement for principal quality: Degree level; degreed subject; experience; principal attrition rates; and whole school performance teacher turnover at school.

High-Stakes Testing

The accountability system in Texas has been primarily focused on measuring minimum competency via high-stakes testing. In a similar vein, NCLB focuses AYP on all students meeting proficiency by 2014. The multiple measures approach in CBA will aid local communities by including high-stakes testing results in the accountability formula, but would provide leeway to local communities to choose the assessments that they deem appropriate. Alternative assessments for schools that serve large numbers of special populations also could be a part of the democratic CBA selection process in each community.

Potential areas of measurement: ACT; ITBS; NWEA; PSAT; SAT; Stanford; and STAAR (state-mandated exams).

Higher Education

CBA also would promote longer-term accountability outcomes. Ultimately our society cares whether students are college ready which means that students can thrive in higher education environments. The skills necessary for this success are: Intellectual curiosity, reasoning, problem solving, academic behaviors, work habits, integrity, and information literacy.

Potential areas of measurement: # of college applied to; # of students admitted to higher education; # of student completing first year of higher education; # of student graduating from 2-year and 4-year institutions; types of majors; and graduate school attendance.

School Climate

In order for learning to occur in a school setting it must have a positive school climate and culture. School climate and culture are linked in the research literature to many other indicators of school success, including teacher retention, stronger academic performance, and lower dropout rates.  School climate refers to the subjective experience that an individual, student, or staff has within the school; school culture refers to the shared beliefs of those in the school’s community that drive the actions of that school.

Potential areas of measurement for student: Academic support; discipline (e.g. consistency of rules, clarity of rules, and fairness of rules); helpfulness of school staff; overall satisfaction; safety; school physical environment; student-peer relationships; and teacher-student relationships.

Potential areas of measurement for teachers: Achievement press; collegial leadership; institutional integrity; morale; overall satisfaction; principal behavior; resource support; teacher engagement and teacher commitment; and teacher-student relationship. 

Potential areas of measurement for parents: Academics; empowers parents; informs parents; involves parents; and overall satisfaction.

School Safety and Discipline  

School safety is considered paramount in creating places of opportunity and learning for all children. To maintain such communities student conduct becomes an increasing area on concern. Data is required to change long-held beliefs about “effective” disciplinary action. . To this end it is necessary that districts, on a school to school level, are able to critically look at their disciplinary practices and correlate those practices with the reality of their overall school safety and campus climate.

Potential areas of measurement: # of students suspended in-school (unduplicated); # of students suspended out-of-school (unduplicated); # of students expelled (unduplicated);  # of students referred to alternative placements (DAEP, JJAEP, AEP);  # of in-school suspensions;  # of out of school suspensions;  # of expulsions;  # of referrals to DAEPs;  # of referrals to AEPs;  # of referrals to JJAEPs;  rates of suspension (ISS and OSS); expulsion; referrals to DAEP, JJAEP, and AEP; rates of mandatory referrals; rates of discretionary referrals; level of PBIS implementation; number of referrals and/or tickets administered by school resource officer on campus.

Student Progress

In conjunction with high-stakes testing, student progress measures make up the outcomes considered in the current form of top-down NCLB accountability. CBA is a retro-fit to the current accountability, and also could include student progress measures in along with the multiple measures contained within this document.

Potential areas of measurement: Dropout/leavers; grade retention; type of diploma; and summer school.


Technology is a powerful tool that impacts almost every aspect of our lives.  Advances in digital technologies have transformed the world around us and have impacted every professional field.  If we are to prepare students for the 21stcentury, we must ensure that they have access to both a variety of digital technologies and teachers capable of integrating said technologies effectively into their classrooms. CBA can include variables that measure schools’ effective integration of digital technologies for teaching and learning.

Potential areas of measurement: Access to learning technologies for students and teachers (e.g. 1:1 computing initiatives, broadband internet access, creative software, etc.); accessibility of adaptive technologies for students with special needs; adequate personnel resources for supporting technology integration (e.g. learning technologists, information technology support staff); ongoing content-specific professional development for teachers that focuses on pragmatic solutions to technology integration in their context; student and family access to learning technologies after/away from school; role of technology use in class instruction (e.g. student vs. teacher use, consumption vs. production, replication vs. acceleration or transformation of teaching and learning); and technology integration in classes across the curriculum (e.g. language arts, science, math, etc.).

Economic Context Index

Another intriguing possible for CBA would be an economic index by which school and district could be compared— an oranges to oranges mechanism. The index will create a system and provide a means for communities to view the economic context of their schools and district based on economic variables.  Creating an economic perspective and situational understanding of the needs and strengths of a given community, the economic context indicator would provide community members a starting point in the goal setting process of accountability.

Potential areas of measurement: Adult educational attainment; health insurance coverage; households on public assistance; median household income; per pupil funding; families living in poverty; tax capacity; Title I; and unemployment rate.

Summary: Community-Based Accountability

CBA is already gaining traction as the High Performance Coalition created by Texas SB 1557 is seeking to adopt a Community-Based Accountability and Assessment system for its twenty districts. CBA may usher in a turn in local involvement in schools. Local control has been a bedrock principle of public schooling in America since inception of the nation. NCLB sent us in the opposite direction of this traditional notion.

In the US, our communities, our parents, our educators must see themselves as the solution rather than the problem. This return to a traditional locally based schooling approach would foment a multiple measures approach to education outcomes democratically derived on the local level. As a revision to the current system, CBA can still include measures that currently exist in NCLB— including disaggregation by student demographics. However, these measures will be supplemented by the educational outcomes that communities elect also are in the best interest of their children. Texas was the birthplace of NCLB. Can Texas envision itself as the birthplace of Community-Based Accountability?

For more variables within each potential area of measurement, contact Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig jvh at

Lead Author Co-Authors   Expert Reviewers  
Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig Lindsay Butterfield   Dr. Sarah Diem
  Dr. Priscilla Canales   Dr. Sonya Horsford
  Becky Cohen   Dr. Su Jin Jez
  Rep. Philip Cortez   Dr. Scott McLeod
  Heather Cole   Dr. Victor B. Saenz
  Katherine Jackson   Dr. Richard Reddick
  Sylvia Jauregui    
  Meghan Lehr    
  Melinda A. Lemke    
  Dongmei  Li    
  Allen McMurrey    
  Lindsay Redd    
  Gregory RussellBo La SohnStephen Spring    
  Dr. Ruth VailAmy Williams    

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Julian Vasquez Heilig

Julian Vasquez Heilig is the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Western Michigan University. His research and practice are primarily foc...