For those of use that may have missed reading about this study back in January 2008, researchers at Rice University and the University of Texas at Austin concluded that the Texas public school accountability system contributes directly to low graduation rates.

The study, titled Avoidable Losses: High Stakes Accountability and the Dropout Crisis, found that high-stakes testing and school accountability lead not to equitable educational possibilities for our youth, but to avoidable losses of thousands of students from public schools. These losses do not occur as school principals fail to comply, but as they abide by the system as it was designed: in the production of rising test scores for their schools. In Texas, whose standardized, high-stakes test-based accountability system became the model for the nation’s most comprehensive federal education policy, more than 135,000 youth are lost from the state’s high schools every year. Dropout rates are highest for African American and Latino youth, which compose more than 60% of the students that were followed in the study. The findings from this study, which included analysis of the accountability policy in operation in high-poverty high schools, provides critical data to help continue the dialogue on how a state’s high-stakes accountability system directly contributes to the dropout issue. Some Additional findings from the study also include:

• Losses of low-achieving students help raise school ratings under the accountability system, thus accruing rewards to their principals in the form of bonuses and job security.
• The reporting of student test scores by racial categories resulted in the singling out of the lowest-achieving students in these historically underserved subgroups as potential liabilities to the school ratings, increasing the incentives for school administrators to allow these students to quietly exit the system.
• The difficulty of undertaking substantive, long-term improvements under the pressure to produce immediate spikes in test scores and achieve acceptable Annual Yearly Progress.
• The degradation of the curriculum into test drills, which have little relevance beyond the state test, distances students who otherwise wish to persist to graduation, exacerbating the likelihood they will leave school.
• The accountability system’s zero tolerance rules for attendance and behavior, including rigid regulations which shift youth into the court system for minor offenses and absences, which ultimately causes students to feel disconnected and increasing the likelihood of dropping out.

It is critical to think about other high-poverty school districts throughout the country also experience the same problem of pushing out youth of color due to the pressures of high-stakes accountability systems under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). While not all of NCLB is bad policy, some of it does need to be revisited and overhauled, beginning with Title VI (school accountability). While schools, parents, educators and other stakeholders still await reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the chances of that taking place in 2011 appear dimmer. In the Senate, Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) missed his latest deadline for markup of his proposed ESEA reauthorization bill. The latest prediction from Chairman Harkin on ESEA reauthorization is “by the end of the year”—which does not sound all that hopeful. While we learned that much of the ESEA reauthorization bill has been written, it seems as if several members of the HELP committee have yet to see a draft. Given that Members of Congress must immediately deal with the FY 2012 budget upon their return from recess in September, it is unclear if they will have enough time to complete ESEA reauthorization by the end of 2011.

Click here to read the study.