At-risk student averse: Risk management and accountability

Julian Vasquez Heilig, Michelle Young, Amy Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)562-585
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Educational Administration
Issue number5
StatePublished - Aug 2012


  • Accountability
  • Educational administration
  • Ethnic groups
  • Minorities
  • Risk analysis
  • Rural areas
  • Secondary schools
  • Students
  • United States of America
  • Urban areas
  • Urban education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Public Administration


Dive into the research topics of 'At-risk student averse: Risk management and accountability'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this