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Focusing State Accountability Systems More on High Achievers May Backfire

BOULDER, CO (January 26, 2017) – Two recent reports from the Fordham Institute address the question of the impact of state accountability systems on “high achievers,” referred to in the reports as “students who have already crossed the proficiency threshold.” Both reports assert that states are not adequately attending to the needs of these students and that state accountability systems under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) should be redesigned in order to incentivize districts to address those needs.

Beth Rubin, associate professor of education at Rutgers University, reviewed High Stakes for High Achievers and High Stakes for High Schoolers for the Think Twice Think Tank Review Project at the National Education Policy Center, housed at CU Boulder’s School of Education.

The education of high-achieving students is an important concern, but the reports uncritically turn to standardized test scores as the lever to create favorable policy and practice. High-achieving students (like all students) need engaging challenges and supports, and there is good reason to fear that more intense test-score accountability focused on these students would divert instruction toward test-prep lessons.

The reports, in calling for leveraging of assessment measures to overcome complex social and economic problems, also deflect attention from the structural economic inequalities that are the major source of educational disparities. In doing so, the reports repeat old, disproven arguments about the lack of impact resources have on educational opportunity.

Professor Rubin concludes with four critiques of the reports: (a) their central assumptions about high-achieving students are not supported by evidence; (b) accountability pressures attached to growth measures are not an effective means for gaining better instruction for high-achieving students; (c) narrow, high-stakes forms of assessment may negatively impact the education provided to these students; and (d) further stratifying educational settings and reallocating resources toward “high-achieving” students has troublesome implications for the democratic goals of education.

Implementation of the reports’ recommendations, she explains, “may in fact result in a furthering of the inequitable educational opportunities that ESSA was designed to reduce.”

Find Professor Rubin’s review at:

Find High Stakes for High Achievers: State Accountability in the Age of ESSA by Michael J. Petrilli, David Griffith, Brandon L. Wright, & Audrey Kim, and High Stakes for High Schoolers: State Accountability in the Age of ESSA, by Michael J. Petrilli, David Griffith, & Brandon L. Wright, both published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, at: and

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