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State and Local Education Officials Describe Innovative Initiatives to Improve School Accountability

Today, the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing entitled “Education Reforms: Examining the Federal Role in Public School Accountability” to examine the appropriate federal role in accountability. The hearing brought education leaders from New Mexico, Maryland, Florida, and Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C. to discuss innovative state and local approaches to hold schools accountable for student achievement.

In his opening statement, Chairman John Kline (R-MN) outlined the challenges facing states and school districts struggling to meet accountability standards under current elementary and secondary education law. “Under No Child Left Behind’s accountability system, known as Adequate Yearly Progress,” he said, “all schools that fail to meet target proficiency levels for two or more consecutive years are required to undergo the same series of prescriptive federal interventions, regardless of the unique circumstances or challenges facing each school.”

Chairman Kline added, “We cannot continue to rely on a one-size-fits-all federal accountability system to gauge the performance of our schools and students. It’s time to develop a more meaningful way to measure whether students are learning, and we must be willing to look beyond laws enacted in Washington, D.C. Across the country, reform-minded individuals are challenging the education paradigm in exciting ways, and children are benefitting from their efforts.”

Red Pump Elementary School Principal Blaine Hawley echoed the chairman’s concerns about federal accountability standards, stating, “While the policies of the No Child Left Behind Act have done much good for helping states set high standards and helping us learn more about our unique populations of students through disaggregation of data to make better instructional decisions, our nation’s all-or-nothing yardstick for measuring school and student performance is simply flawed. As a result, we are now facing the unintended consequence of a misidentification of failing schools, and punitive labels acquired from a federal mandate that inaccurately measures student performance from an across-the-board, single snapshot in time.”

Secretary-designate of the New Mexico Public Education Department Ms. Hanna Skandera, who previously served as Florida’s Deputy Commissioner of Education, shared her efforts to implement an A-F grading scale for schools similar to the successful Florida model she helped execute. Rather than judge schools on a limited pass/fail system, this model takes a nuanced approach to evaluating schools, which, Ms. Skandera explained, “allows us to differentiate between our schools in a more effective manner.”

Dr. Amy Sichel, the Superintendent of Schools for Pennsylvania’s Abington School District, discussed an initiative she developed called Opportunities to Learn, which successfully used student data to develop a more rigorous curriculum that helped improve achievement levels. Dr. Sichel said, “Local school districts, such as Abington, are moving in ways that improve academic outcomes for all children for we are accountable to our students, our parents, our community, our local school board, and our state. All too often successful models rarely receive attention and recognition. Please give us the benefit of the doubt and stop focusing on the punitive accountability measures prescribed by NCLB. This disheartens students, parents, teachers, and administrators and undermines the success of public education in this country.”

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce is in the process of advancing a series of education reform legislation designed to reform current elementary and secondary education law. Toward that end, the committee has already approved three pieces of legislation, one of which, the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act, was approved by the full House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support on September 13, 2011.

The committee is in the process of developing legislation to address accountability and teacher quality issues, and expects the full package of education reform bills to be considered this year. To learn more about the committee’s progress on education reform, visit

To read witness testimony, opening statements, or watch an archived webcast of today’s hearing, visit  


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