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New Project Forum report on Principal Preparedness to Support Diverse Learners

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Journal Article: Accountability Standards, and the Growing Achievement Gap: Lessons from the Past Half-Century

Journal Article » Accountability Standards, and the Growing Achievement Gap: Lessons from the Past Half-Century


Education, Equalization, Educational, Accountability in education, Student achievements, Educational policy/History


Harris, Douglas N.; Herrington, Carolyn D.


2006, February


The rise of accountability policies during the early 1990s coincided with an increase in the achievement gap between white and minority students, reversing decades of steady improvement in outcome equity. This article explores the policies that helped to reduce the achievement gap before 1990, the effects of the subsequent shift toward accountability, and what can be learned from past successes to guide the future development of accountability systems. An extensive review of research suggests that pre-1990s reductions in the achievement gap occurred because minority students were exposed to greater resources and academic content. We find little evidence that most forms of accountability have placed any downward pressure on the achievement gap, suggesting that the upward trend in the gap during the 1990s may be more than a coincidence. The few forms of accountability that have apparently helped to improve equity, especially promotion-graduation exams for students, have in common with past successful policies the effect of increasing student exposure to resources and/or content. This suggests that accountability can help to improve educational equity but that such a change must be based on some basic assumptions that are inconsistent with much of the current reform movement. Specifically, A Nation at Risk has important lessons for No Child Left Behind and state-level accountability programs. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.