Achieve’s annual survey of states found that half of the states use at least one of these critical college- and career-ready indicators in their accountability system (see www.achieve.org/ClosingtheExpectationsGap2011 for details). However, for an accountability system to truly reflect the goal of college and career readiness for all students it must use a rich, comprehensive set of indicators in multiple ways, including publicly reporting the data in a meaningful way, setting clear targets for schools to improve, and providing clear incentives and consequences that drive schools to improve performance and meet the established targets.
Despite some progress in states beginning to value college and career readiness in their accountability systems, for nearly half the states, federal accountability and state accountability are one in the same. That is, the state accountability system goes no farther than what the federal government requires. Given that reality, what the federal government requires for accountability matters. Current federal high school accountability, for example, requires state-set proficiency scores on state-developed, end-of-course or comprehensive reading and math tests once in high school and a measurement of graduation rates. This requirement is essentially silent on the level of expectations and certainly does not value or incentivize states that are organizing their education reform efforts around college and career readiness. In fact, current federal requirements – with the mandate of all students be proficient by 2014 and the sanctions for those schools and districts that fall short – may undermine the efforts of leading reform states.