Holding public schools accountable on non-academic measures : examining districts’ perceptions and implementation of the ‘community and student engagement’ policy in Texas
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As resistance to high-stakes testing has grown across the country, some states have experimented with non-testing based and local models of accountability reform. Texas is one such state, which implemented the ‘Community and Student Engagement’ (CASE) policy. This policy maintains current testing, but also requires districts to self-evaluate in compliance with statutory reporting requirements. The eight required areas include fine arts, wellness and physical education, community and parental involvement, the 21st century workforce development program, the second language acquisition program, the digital learning environment, dropout prevention strategies, and educational programs for gifted and talented students. To date, however, little work has thoroughly examined new reforms like CASE. Meanwhile, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) grants states flexibility towards assessment and takes full effect in the 2017-18 school year. Without an understanding of current reforms, we will lack the empirical knowledge to inform states how to best access the ESSA opportunity to improve their accountability systems. To remedy this gap, this project examined CASE, a new policy added to Texas’ accountability system in 2013. The purpose of this study was to understand public school districts’ perceptions and implementation of CASE. Using mixed methods, including collecting survey data from one-third of the districts across the state and conducting semi-structured interviews with a subsample of district leaders, I explored how school district leaders perceive the CASE policy and its impact, and how they implemented the policy. The analysis of survey data shows an overall support of CASE by most district leaders and different patterns of perceptions by district type. The results from survey and interview data indicate varying policy implementation and impact patterns in different districts. This study will contribute to a better understanding of local districts’ perceptions and implementation of non-academic accountability reform. It provides timely empirical evidence for Texas and other states to revise their accountability systems and inform respond to the new ESSA requirements of measuring non-academic domains along with academic measures.