Juvenile Correctional Schools: Assessment and Accountability Policies and Practices

Article excerpt


This study focused on school-level approaches to assessment and accountability policies and practices. A national random sample of 131 (34.22%) principals from juvenile correctional schools for committed youth (JC) responded to a mail and on-line survey. No statistically significant differences existed between respondent and nonrespondent schools. Results indicated that the majority of students with or without disabilities in JC schools participated in state assessments. The most common basis of school policies for assessment accommodations was state accommodation guidelines. For most JC schools there was no process for accountability for student participation and performance on state assessments. Almost half of principals did not know if their school made Adequate Yearly Progress. Other salient results, implications, and recommendations for future research are presented.


In response to thirty years of concern with student achievement on both national and international assessments, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB, 2002) was developed to promote a rigorous education for all students. NCLB has led to an increased focus on establishing challenging standards, measuring student learning against those standards, and holding schools and local education agencies (LEAs) accountable for student achievement (Kohl, McLaughlin, & Nagle, 2006). The central components of NCLB ensure all students participate in state assessments, assessment accommodations are appropriately used and assessment results are utilized, as well as publicly reported. NCLB also incorporates accountability for student learning which emphasizes student performance on state assessments as a basis of providing rewards and sanctions to schools (Yell, Shriner, & Katsiyannis, 2006).

The assessment and accountability requirements within NCLB (2002) were designed to promote a high quality education for all youth, including students with disabilities, in a variety of educational settings. In fact, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act regulations (IDEIA, 2004) are aligned with NCLB in an effort to ensure youth with disabilities are also included in the system of educational accountability.

Despite the intentions behind NCLB (2002) and IDEIA (2004), there are concerns that the promises of educational assessment and accountability do not extend to all youth. Limited evidence suggests that adherence to federal education mandates are a significant and longstanding issue of concern for youth with and without disabilities in exclusionary school settings (Gagnon a McLaughlin, 2004; Gagnon, Maccini, & Haydon, 2009). Juvenile correctional schools for committed youth (JC) are one exclusionary school setting with the worst record of adhering to federal education reform (Browne, 2003; Coffey & Gemignani, 1994; Leone, 1994). The mandates in NCLB do not specifically address the unique characteristics of youth (e.g., mental health, short length of stay) and systemic difficulties (e.g., security issues) within JC schools (Leone & Cutting, 2004). However, there is no legal justification for denying youth in JC schools with and without disabilities the same educational opportunities, participation in state assessments, and inclusion in accountability measures that are significant components of public schools. The sections that follow will briefly discuss the federal mandates as they apply to JC schools and include (a) participation in state assessments, (b) assessment accommodations, and (c) accountability.

Participation in State Assessments

NCLB (2002, see PL 107-110 § 1001 (4)) requires that students with and without disabilities participate in state assessments. Participation is viewed as critical to improving educational opportunities for students and providing information to schools and communities concerning student performance (Nagle, Yunker, & Malmgren, 2006; Thurlow, Lazarus, Thompson, & Morse, 2005). …