A Quandary for School Leaders

Equity, High-Stakes Testing and Accountability

Authored by: Julian Vasquez Heilig , Sharon L. Nichols

Handbook of Research on Educational Leadership for Equity and Diversity

Print publication date:  April  2013
Online publication date:  August  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415657457
eBook ISBN: 9780203076934
Adobe ISBN: 9781135128432


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The goal of this chapter is to consider the interrelation among equity, high-stakes testing, and accountability as they relate to evolving roles of today's school leaders. As educational policy has developed over the past 80 years, a rapidly growing fear and uncertainty has emerged around the “core technology” of education (Young & Brewer, 2008). As a result, many schools leaders feel as if their work has changed dramatically, from a focus on curriculum and instruction to one on assessment and intervention (McNeil, 2005). The intense focus on test results and how those results are used and shared with the public has left many school leaders feeling disillusioned, anxious, and uncertain about the decisions they make (Vasquez Heilig & Darling-Hammond, 2008). Consequently, school leaders face a quandary over how best to manage their schools when policy-driven accountability mandates conflict with curriculum-based, student-centered instructional practice—an issue particularly salient among leaders serving in historically low performing schools and where leaders are often rewarded for discarding the neediest underperforming students (Vasquez Heilig, Young, & Williams, 2012). As we discuss in this chapter, for many school leaders in low-performing schools, the exclusion of at-risk students from school appears to be a rational response to the quandary fomented by the current educational policy environment.

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