At‐risk student averse: risk management and accountability

Julian Vasquez Heilig (Department of Education Administration, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, USA)
Michelle Young (The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, USA)
Amy Williams (The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, USA)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Publication date: 10 August 2012

Abstract

Purpose

The prevailing theory of action underlying accountability is that holding schools and students accountable will increase educational output. While accountability's theory of action intuitively seemed plausible, at the point of No Child Left Behind's national implementation, little empirical research was available to either support or critique accountability claims or to predict the long‐term impact of accountability systems on the success of at‐risk students and the schools that served them. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the work and perceptions of school teachers and leaders as they seek to meet the requirements of educational accountability.

Design/methodology/approach

Interviews with 89 administrators, staff and teachers revealed a variety of methods utilized to manage risks associated with low test scores and accountability ratings.

Findings

The findings reported in this paper challenge the proposition that accountability improves the educational outcomes of at‐risk students and indicates that low‐performing Texas high schools, when faced with the press of accountability, tend to mirror corporate risk management processes, with unintended consequences for at‐risk students. Low‐scoring at‐risk students were often viewed as liabilities by school personnel who, in their scramble to meet testing thresholds and accountability goals, were at‐risk student averse – implementing practices designed to “force kids out of school.”

Originality/value

In this paper, the authors use theory and research on risk management to analyze the work and perceptions of school teachers and leaders as they seek to meet the requirements of educational accountability. This paper is among the first to use this particular perspective to conceptualize and understand the practices of educational organizations with regards to the treatment of at‐risk students attending low‐performing high schools in the midst of accountability.

Keywords

Citation

Vasquez Heilig, J., Young, M. and Williams, A. (2012), "At‐risk student averse: risk management and accountability", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 50 No. 5, pp. 562-585. https://doi.org/10.1108/09578231211249826

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Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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