With No Child Left Behind (NCLB) off the table for at least 32 states in the U.S., accountability measures will be left to states and local school systems. NCLB has been clear about closing achievement gaps between groups of students considered at risk. To ensure that there is an ongoing focus on school improvement, accountability should continue to be rigorous and focused on achievement gaps along with whole school improvement.

With No Child Left Behind (NCLB) off the table for at least 32 states in the U.S., accountability measures will be left to states and local school systems. NCLB has been clear about closing achievement gaps between groups of students considered at risk. To ensure that there is an ongoing focus on school improvement, accountability should continue to be rigorous and focused on achievement gaps along with whole school improvement.

Clear accountability systems have to be in place at seven different levels to ensure student success now and in the future. Goals, beliefs, values, visions and actions must be aligned similar to what one may find in a balanced scorecard. If these things are not operating in tandem, then the system may be doomed to fail.

The seven levels of accountability for student success are: 1) state; 2) school system; 3) school; 4) principal; 5) teachers; 6) parents; and 7) students.

Level 1:  STATE

All states should have a strong plan in place to measure accountability. Out of the 32 states approved for No Child Left Behind waivers, eight states have a conditional waiver, meaning they have not yet satisfied the Obama administration’s requirements for a new principal/teacher evaluation system, incorporation of College and Career Readiness Standards and other stipulations. If these states are granted waivers, it is imperative that they have a plan in place so that all educators, parents, students and other stakeholders understand how schools will be monitored and what criteria will be used to determine school improvement.

Many of the states that have received No Child Left Behind waivers have developed impressive accountability plans.

According to the Kentucky Department of Education, their new accountability model is a more robust – next generation model that holds all schools and school systems accountable for improving student performance and creates four performance classifications that determine consequences and guide interventions and supports. School and system classifications are based on the following measures: 1) Achievement (Content Areas are reading, mathematics, science, social studies and writing.); 2) Gap (percentage of proficient and distinguished) for the Non-Duplicated Gap Group for all five content areas; 3) Growth in reading and mathematics (percentage of students at typical or higher levels of growth); 4) College Readiness as measured by the percentage of students meeting benchmarks in three content areas on EXPLORE at middle school; 5) College/Career-Readiness Rate as measured by ACT benchmarks, college placement tests and career measures and 6) Graduation Rate.


For school systems located in states where NCLB is still active, the accountability standards remain the same: required scores in key subject areas, test participation rates at 95 percent, attendance, graduation rates and adequate performance of special populations such as disadvantaged students and students with disabilities. What will be the accountability of school systems in states with waivers? The measures should certainly be well aligned to the state accountability plan components that we monitor and hold systems accountable for. In many cases, the new accountability measures growth over a period of time. Superintendents, boards of education and school system leaders will need to be visionary, progressive thinkers who are well versed about what is happening around the country and how to keep their school system on the cutting-edge of transformation.

A strong strategic plan that communicates the school system vision, mission, goals, beliefs, values and objectives should be transparent for all to see. The metrics embedded in it should communicate what the system is holding itself accountable for. There has to be a whole school system focus on building a culture of continuous improvement.

Curriculum, instruction, assessment and professional learning are critical success indicators for school systems. All levels of system operation have to link back to improvement of student achievement. High expectations must be in place for school system leaders, principals, teachers, students and their parents.

Level 3:  SCHOOL

An important question for a school to ask: “How do we know if our students are successful and what actions will we take if they are not?” Schools with an answer to this question and an accountability plan in place will have the greatest level of success. Generally, the school improvement plan is the accountability plan for the school. It outlines the same components one would find in a school system strategic plan; it is clear about the actions that will take place to address the question posed earlier. There should be an action plan for improving each content area based on current school realities or baseline data from the most recent school assessments; a professional development plan aligned to the action plans; a technology plan; a plan for improving student attendance and parent involvement; and a plan that outlines how data will be utilized, analyzed and interpreted.

Ensuring student success in schools means holding teachers and other staff accountable for quality work directly impacting student achievement. Identification of root causes for lack of student success and aggressive interventions to address areas of weakness must be implemented. Use of research-based practices in all key areas of instruction, leadership and school operation should be evident in schools aiming for high levels of student success. Innovation and creativity are not only encouraged but celebrated.


It is often said that principals must be strong instructional leaders. That is only part of what principals should know and be able to do. They also must be change agents, capable of dealing with vast ambiguities; human relations gurus; school culture shapers; savvy budget administrators; and outstanding performance managers. If principals are knowledgeable, courageous and willing to hold everyone accountable for keeping their students at the center of everything they do, success is bound to follow.

An effective principal is needed in every school building of a school system striving for excellence in education. These principals understand the complexity of their position, perform duties and responsibilities at a high level, and are able to multi-task, fitting all of the interconnected pieces of school life together for the good of their students. They are results-driven and accept no excuses from anyone. Success is the only option and mediocrity is simply not acceptable in a school run by a strong leader.

Many states have new leader accountability instruments that will be used to evaluate system and building level leaders. Principals operating at the proficient to exemplary level of these accountability systems will have the most positive impact on student achievement.

Level 5:  TEACHERS

Research is clear about the damage an ineffective teacher can do. It can take years of instruction with an effective teacher to turn that damage around. Schools and school systems will need a laser-like focus on building the capacity of teachers through strong induction programs, job-embedded professional learning, support for implementation of the new Common Core Performance Standards with accompanying assessments and teacher evaluation programs linked to student achievement outcomes. Teaching children at a high level of proficiency should be the core work of every teacher.

All teachers should continue to be highly qualified to teach the subjects and grade levels they are assigned. Use of varied instructional strategies, effective assessment techniques, data utilization and integration of technology are a given for teachers who want their students to be successful. Teachers should be held accountable; however, their success begins with holding students accountable for learning what is taught.

Level 6:  PARENTS

The outside curriculum of children does matter. This curriculum has to do with how they spend their time away from school, what they value, the support systems they have in place and how parents involve themselves in the school. What is learned in schools can be easily unlearned if not sufficiently enforced at home, in the community, ingrained in character and properly supported.

Parents need the requisite skills to help their children succeed in school. The local school and school systems should provide these skills through parent education workshops, parent involvement meetings, adult education classes and engagement in volunteerism. The Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets is a good starting point, along with the six types of parent involvement established by Joyce Epstein.

The chances of children being successful increase when their parents are fully vested in the school community; capable of monitoring school work; communicating effectively with teachers; and able to identify resources to help with social, emotional health issues and other impediments to school success.

Level 7:  STUDENTS

Students must be taught to be responsible and take ownership for their education. Personalized learning environments are significant when it comes to establishing schools where students can thrive and be successful. Working with teachers who understand the importance of building relationships cannot be overemphasized. We must remain steadfast in our mission to prepare 21st century students in our country to compete in a global economy. Failing to do so will be detrimental to not only the individual child, but to our future as a nation.

Sharon Riley Ordu is director of an early college high school and a practitioner with more than 20 years of experience in the field of education. Dr. Ordu has served as a middle school principal, high school principal, central office administrator, consultant and professor. She is the recipient of a Phi Delta Kappa Educational Excellence Award, has led Title I schools with challenging populations to earn awards from US News & World Reports, the International Center for Leadership in Education, and her schools have been recognized at the state and local level for outstanding student achievement. She is the founder and CEO of ETLL (Excellence in Teaching, Learning & Leadership) Consulting.
P. Augustine Ordu is a full professor and Chief Operating Officer and Managing Associate of ETLL Consulting. He has presented at many local, national and international conferences on a variety of topics such as educational excellence, student engagement leadership, healthcare administration, management and research. Dr. Ordu is the 2009 recipient of the Walden University Distinguished Alumni Award and was honored by Career Education Corporation for Outstanding Academic Leadership and Student Success. He has been practicing in the field of healthcare and education for over 25 years.