Accountability and school leadership by Karen Seashore Louis

By Karen Seashore Louis

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The Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) has argued that adopting the NCES national dropout definition for Texas has provided a more accurate, yet still understated representation of the magnitude of the dropout problem in Texas (Johnson, 2008). More than two decades of IDRA’s annual analysis of PEIMS high school attrition data suggest that TEA has consistently and severely undercounted student leaving in publicly reported dropout and graduation rates. For example, while IDRA found the overall student attrition rate of 33 percent to be the same in 2007-2008 as it was more than two decades ago ( Johnson, 2008), TEA reported that annual dropout rates had declined from 5 to 1 percent and longitudinal cohort dropout rates that declined from about 35 percent to around 5 percent over the same time frame (author).

Seeking and using loopholes Although the theory of action for test-based accountability holds that the pressure on educators associated with accountability would increase positive student outcomes such as test scores, lower dropout rates and higher graduation rates, other unintended outcomes are common. To investigate the nature and prevalence of such unintended outcomes, we asked school staff at urban, suburban and rural schools in Texas to discuss how the pressure of accountability has led to organizational behavior that the proponents of accountability may not have originally envisioned.

Our paper begins with a review of research revealing the unintended negative outcomes of high-stakes accountability. This is followed by an overview of riskmanagement literature and a delineation of how this literature is applied in our paper. Following a description of our methods, we share and discuss our findings. Unintended consequences of high-stakes accountability Carnoy et al. (2001) proposed two scenarios about the possible relationship between test-based accountability – then underpinned by the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) test – and student success in Texas.

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