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High Stakes Accountability in Urban Elementary Schools: Challenging or Reproducing Inequality? (WP-02-22)

John B. Diamond and James P. Spillane

In this paper, the authors use data from interviews and observations in four urban elementary schools – two high- and two low-performing – to examine how schools respond to high stakes accountability policies. The authors argue that school responses to high stakes accountability depend on school context. In low-performing schools, responses focus narrowly on complying with policy demands, focusing on improving the performance of certain students, within benchmark grades, and in certain subject areas. In contrast, higher performing schools emphasize enhancing the performance of all students regardless of grade level and across all subject areas. Given the concentration of poor students and students of color in the lowest performing schools, the authors conclude that issues of educational equity need to be given careful consideration in the implementation of high stakes accountability policies.

John B. Diamond, School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern University

James P. Spillane, School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern University

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