Assessment and accountability systems are complementary components that enable schools to monitor, adapt, improve and communicate their progress in educating students who are college- and career-ready, and lifelong learners. The United States is moving towards a student-centered, competency-based system of assessment and accountability that will support this goal. Learn more about how schools can develop and implement a balanced system of summative, formative and interim assessments, both formal and informal, that promotes growth and improvement, and the complementary roles that leadership, teaching, infrastructure and student learning play in this process.


  • As you explore this topic you will notice that assessments and accountability are connected to everything else. Assessments should be aligned to teaching practices and learning outcomes in order to measure what is needed. Assessments and accountability systems must be supported by the appropriate technology infrastructure and guided by leadership and learning culture.

  • As you build your own roadmap, you will encounter many of these connections, some unique to your own circumstances and goals. Incorporating these connections creates a web of interconnected supports that can strengthen all aspects of your plan.



Assessments are inventoried and reviewed to determine:

  • Alignment with standards
  • Alignment with curriculum and teaching
  • Accuracy of content
  • Inclusion of higher order thinking skills
  • Usefulness of results
  • Redundancy, where content is unnecessarily tested multiple times


Unneeded or outdated assessments are dropped. Existing and/or new assessments are mapped to the curriculum to ensure they measure desired outcomes, and are part of a balanced system of formal and informal, formative, interim and summative assessments.


A balanced system of formal and information, formative, interim and summative assessments is in place.



Assessments are personalized and adaptive—Technology in classrooms and digital curricula provide differentiated assessment options. They adapt to accurately assess all students as they are learning, to the benefit both teacher and student.


Assessments involve multiple measures, over the course of school year—Measurement of learning outcomes is accomplished through multiple measures that are naturally embedded in the curriculum.


Assessments promote student growth—by providing information about past, current and near future skills and knowledge, assessments are diagnostic and supportive of student learning and achievement. Assessments reinforce growth, rather than serving as punitive measures.


Assessments are authentic and contextual—Assessments target knowledge and higher order thinking skills. Assessed outcomes encompass content knowledge as well as habits of mind (i.e., persistence), and do so in ways that align with how the content was taught and learned.


Accountability promotes growth and improvement—The ultimate purpose of an accountability system is to foster growth and improvement, not to punish. Rich data, diagnostic tools and meaningful dialog among all stakeholders supports ongoing monitoring and continuous improvement and innovation.


Accountability incorporates diverse measures—Student test scores derived from assessments reflecting the principles described here are important data points, but serve as one component of a range of indicators. A variety of measures, taken over time, provide a better picture of strengths and weaknesses.


Accountability provides for flexibility and innovation: Accountability systems build or improve school capacity, and enable thoughtful risk taking. They give school leaders flexibility to innovate, experiment and solve problems.


Accountability is transparent: The system provides timely, easy to find, easy to understand and actionable data to educators, parents and policymakers.


  • Are our tests matched to the standards we’re teaching and useful for the purposes for which they were designed and implemented?

  • Is each assessment given primarily for growth, or for compliance with a legal or bureaucratic mandate?

  • Are the assessments organic to teaching and learning, or do we have to stop teaching to the assessment?

  • Do these assessments actually and accurately measure higher order thinking skills?

  • How do we teach and measure metacognitive skills?

  • How do we teach and measure desired attitudes and dispositions such as persistence?

  • Are there important topics/subjects we are not assessing (digital citizenship, civic education, etc.)?

  • How can we account for learning taking place outside of schools, family background, life experiences, etc.

  • Are we cognizant of any assessment items that may be culturally, economically, geographically, or socially biased?

  • Are the assessment items good enough/accurate enough to measure whether a student is adequately prepared for college or career?


Create a plan to review and improve assessment and accountability systems. Involve policymakers, parents, educators, school leaders and others, as appropriate, to create consensus and widespread support.

Seek the advice of experts, the results of research, and the voice of experience from the examples contained in this report and other sources, but adapt it to suit the unique needs and culture of your community.

Articulate a clear and challenging set of goals for the educational system and outline the key principles that will guide everything else.

Make sure the goals and the policies that accompany them are not overly prescriptive and allow school leaders the flexibility to choose from among options and to experiment with potential solutions.

Make sure that sufficient resources are available for every aspect of your plan, from teacher training to technology, to supports for improving troubled schools.

Design a process to periodically review progress on your plan and adapt or revise as necessary.


  • Federal and state mandates may require certain assessments at certain times and may require a defined accountability system for schools and/or for educators.

  • Beyond the requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), some states have made commitments through Race to the Top applications and NCLB waivers.

  • Many states have adopted college and career ready standards and/or next generation assessments, such as those from Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) or SmarterBalance Consortia.

  • Within federal and state requirements, policy wording can sometimes provide schools and districts with flexibility in building their own system of assessments and accountability, or adjusting and adapting state systems to match local needs.

  • Any accountability system should set clear goals for raising student achievement and for closing gaps between groups of students while leaving districts and schools the ability to develop strategies to meet those goals. The goals should be aligned with the state’s challenging and rigorous college and career ready standards.

  • Accountability systems should provide a regular stream of clear, useful and actionable information to stakeholders that can be used for continuous improvement.

  • Accountability systems should prompt action through meaningful incentives (positive and negative) for meeting, exceeding or failing to meet expectations. The incentives should be differentiated based on the characteristics of the school/district and the ways in which the school/district is succeeding or failing. Further, the incentives must be adequately resourced.

  • Where assessment and accountability systems are under discussion, it is important to point out what the various measures are designed to tell you, and what they’re not designed to do. Standardized tests, for example, were never designed to provide evidence of student growth or teacher effectiveness.

  • Single assessments—such as those required under Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)/No Child Left Behind (NCLB); those being developed by Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) and SmarterBalanced; the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP); Program for International Student Assessment (PISA); and Trends in International Mathematics and Sciences Study (TIMMS)—provide information on what students are learning and are useful in determining how a school or system is doing. They provide useful trend data and may be good for comparisons between different schools, districts or states. They have less value, and were not designed, to measure teacher effectiveness.

  • Researchers, test developers and psychometricians have decades of experience in developing test questions that can accurately measure learning outcomes. The knowledge base on measuring teacher effectiveness through test data is much more shallow.



  • PARCC and Smarter Balanced
    Regardless of whether your state is participating in the PARCC or Smarter Balanced consortia, their work is worth reviewing. Drawing on some of the best minds in assessment, their sample items and practice tests are excellent examples of the state of the art in assessing more than just discrete knowledge.
    PARC Website
    Smarter Balanced Website

  • PISA and NAEP
    Also worth reviewing for assessment items are the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) of the OECD and the United States’ National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
    PISA Website
    NAEP Website

  • New Hampshire’s Performance Assessment for Competency Education
    New Hampshire was one of the first states to invest in changing to competency-based assessment.

  • The Rhode Island Diploma System
    Emphasizes personalize learning opportunities and pathways, multiple forms of assessment and opportunities to demonstrate proficiency.

  • Maine Learning Results and Guiding Principles
    Maine’s system of proficiency-based education.


  • Wisconsin ESEA Waiver Request
    Notable for work proposed on accountability, especially the resulting On Track to Graduation and Postsecondary Readiness Index (Website).
    Waiver Request

  • California’s LCAP (Local Control and Accountability Plan)
    Under a 2013 law, funding was tied to school districts developing a LCAP, which would engage parents, employers, educators and the community to create a vision and goals, along with specific actions to meet those goals. The website provides a tool to make a step-by-step strategic plan for local control and accountability systems.

  • Oregon Report Card for Schools and Districts
    Mandated by the legislature in 1999, the Oregon Department of Education produces report cards for schools and districts that are designed to “accurately reflect student learning and growth; incorporate key measures of college and career readiness; align with district’s achievement compacts; and, make the Report Cards more user friendly and accessible.