NEPC Review: High Stakes for High Achievers: State Accountability in the Age of ESSA (Thomas B. Fordham Institute, August 2016) and High Stakes for High Schoolers: State Accountability in the Age of ESSA (Thomas B. Fordham Institute, November 2016)
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 argue that this group is being neglected educationally, and they advocate for accountability systems to be redesigned to attend to the needs of high-achieving students. Both reports also recommend that states use a “performance index,” as opposed to proficiency rates, to measure school achievement. This review, however, concludes that: 1) the reports’ central assumptions about high-achieving students are problematic; 2) growth measures are not an effective means for directing attention to high-achieving students; 3) narrow, high-stakes forms of assessment may negatively impact the education provided to these students; and, 4) 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 may in fact result in a furthering of the inequitable educational opportunities that ESSA was designed to reduce.