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Building capacity for leadership in urban schools

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: Pamela Houston
Abstract:
This was a mixed-methods, pre-intervention, multi-case study of urban school leadership. Two Kindergarten through eighth grade schools in a large urban school district were studied to examine: (1) factors involved in principals' ability to create the conditions for social justice; and (2) how a state-adopted leadership development program, using the National Institute for School Leadership (NISL) curriculum, might strengthen principals' capacity to influence the practice of their teachers. Qualitative data were collected from interviews, observations, and existing documents. Additionally, the Vanderbilt Assessment of Leadership in Education (VAL-ED) was used to collect survey data on the principals' leadership practices. A major finding of the study was that moral purpose must be accompanied by the active promotion and stewardship of a strong vision of achievement in order to create the conditions for social justice in urban schools. Another key finding, related to the state-adopted leadership training, was that principals' attitudes and expectations regarding the training evolved over time and was influenced by their peers as well as by specific information pertaining to the course content. A third major finding of this study was that the training facilitators' job-alike experience in the principalship, strengthened the NISL content and was a critical element in building urban principals' leadership capacity. Implications that arose from the study pertained to principals spending quality time setting directions at their schools, the dissemination of information regarding principal training and the benefit of carefully selecting leadership development trainers who have had experience in the principalship. Additionally, while it was not the focus of the study, an implication regarding principals' response to high-stakes accountability also arose.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Dedication ………………………………………………………………………..

...ii

Acknowledgments ………………………………………………………………

...iii

List of Tables …………………………………………………………………...

...vii

List of Figures …………………………………………………………………

...viii

Ab stract ………………………………………………………………………….

...ix

Chapter One: Overview of the Study ……………………………………………

...1

Chapter Two: Literature Review ………………………………………………..

...9

Chapter Three: Methodology …………………………………………………..

...45

Chapter Four: Findings …………………………… …………………………...

...69

Chapter Five: Summary, Implications and Recommendations ………………. ...186

References ……………………………………………………………………..

...209

Appendix A: Interview Guide: Principals - Fall 2008 ………………………..

...213

Appendix B: Interview Guide: Principals - Spring 2009 ……………………..

..215

Appendix C: Teacher Interview Guide - Fall 2008 …………………………..

...217

Appendix D: Teacher Interview Guide - Spring 2009 ………………………..

...219

Appendix E: Interview Guide - Region Site Coordinator, Pennsylvania …….

...221

Dep artment of Education

Appendix F: Observation Protocol …………………………………………...

...223

Appendix G: Document Review Protocol ……………………………………

...225

Appendix H: Informed Consent ………………………………………………

...226

vi

Appendix I: Informed Consent - Teacher Participants …… …………………...

...231

Appendix J: Informed Consent - PIL …………………………………………..

...236

Appendix K: Principal Letter …………………………………………………

...240

Appendix L: PIL - USC Joint Letter …………………………………………...

...242

vii

LIST OF TABLES

Table 1. Data Collection Triangulation M atrix ………………………………...

...49

Table 2. NISL Course#1 – Pennsylvania Leadership Standards Alignment …..

...55

Table 3. VAL - ED Sample Respondent Items ………………………………….

...62

Table 4. VAL - ED Performance Level Descriptors …………………………….

...63

Table 5. Interv iew Participants ………………………………………………… ...71

Table 6. Demographic Information for Case Study Schools …………………… ..72

Table 7. Sinclair 2008 Disaggregated PSSA Data - Percentage Proficient …….

...78

Two Year Trend

Table 8. VAL - ED Core Components and Key P rocesses ……………………...

...95

Table 9. Summaries of Core Component and Key Processes Scores for ………

...96

Benjamin Adams

Table 10. The Eight Dimensions of Learning - Centered Leadership …………..

...98

Table 11. Lopel School 2008 PSSA Disaggregated Data Perc entage Proficient ...123

Two Year Trend

Table 12. Summaries of Core Component and Key Processes Scores for …… ...145

Stephanie Swanson

Table 13. Alignment of NISL Courses, Pennsylvania Leadership Standards ..

...169

and Learning - Centered Leadership D imensions

viii

LIST OF FIGURES

Figure 1. Sample VAL - ED Report of Mean Ratings on Core Components …...

...63

Figure 2. VAL - ED Sample Report of Mean Ratings on Key Processes ………

...64

Figure 3. Conceptual Model …………………………………………………… ...67

Figure 4. Factors Involved in the Creation of Conditions for Social Justice …

...164

at Sinclair and Lopel Schools

ix

ABSTRACT

This was a mixed - methods, pre - intervention, multi - case study of urban school leadership. Two Kindergarten through eighth grade schools in a large u rban school district were studied to examine: 1.) factors involved in principals’ ability to create the conditions for social justice; and 2.) how a state - adopted leadership development program, using the National Institute for School Leadership (NISL) cur riculum, might strengthen principals’ capacity to influence the practice of their teachers.

Qualitative data were collected from interviews, observations, and existing documents. Additionally, the Vanderbilt Assessment of Leadership in Education (VAL - ED) was used to collect survey data on the principals’ leadership practices.

A major finding of the study was that moral purpose must be accompanied by the active promotion and stewardship of a strong vision of achievement in order to create the conditions for social justice in urban schools. Another key finding, related to the state - adopted leadership training, was that principals’ attitudes and expectations regarding the training evolved over time and was influenced by their peers as well as by specific info rmation pertaining to the course content. A third major finding of this study was that the training facilitators’ job - alike experience in the principalship, strengthened the NISL content and was a critical element in building urban principals’ leadership capacity.

Implications that arose from the study pertained to principals spending quality time setting directions at their schools, the dissemination of information

x

regarding principal training and the benefit of carefully selecting leadership development trainers who have had experience in the principalship. Additionally, while it was not the focus of the study, an implication regarding principals’ response to high - stakes accountability also arose.

1

CHAPTER ONE

OVERVIEW OF THE STUDY

“Moral purpose of the highest order is having a system where all students learn, the gap between high and low performance becomes greatly reduced, and what people learn enables them to be successful citizens…The role strategically placed to best accomplish this is the principal ship.” (Michael Fullan)

Introduction

United States Census data on poverty reveal disparities between racial and socioeconomic groups. According to the Census Bureau’s annual survey of 100,000 households throughout the nation, the official poverty rate i n 2006 was 12.3% or 36.5 million people. During the same year, the Bureau reports much higher rates of poverty for African Americans and Latinos, reporting that 24.3% of “Blacks” and 20.6% of “Hispanics” live in poverty in this country (U.S. Census Bureau , 2007).

Empirical research from many fields of study continue to show that the poor experience adverse health, inadequate housing conditions, and are more directly affected by greater instances of violent crime. The integral and complex effects of povert y on children have also been extensively documented. Rothstein (2004) writes that low - income children have greater problems with vision, asthma, hearing problems, lead exposure and are more likely to have toothaches. Brooks - Gunn and Duncan (1997) also fo und that poor children have more health, emotional and behavioral problems than non - poor children. Given the general health insurance

2

problem in the United States, the poor are also overwhelmingly less likely to have health insurance (DeNaves - Walt et al., 2007).

Since the extant conditions of poverty affect all aspects of a person’s life, even in childhood, it is not surprising that the extensive data from the field - research on student achievement also reveal clear and distinct discrepancies between the sa me groups noted in the census data. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) regularly assesses 4 th , 8 th and 12 th grade American students to determine what they know and what academic skills they are able to perform at specific periods in th eir education. NAEP, therefore, serves as a barometer of how our nation’s children are performing, academically. Fourth grade NAEP scale scores show slightly greater gains among African Americans, Latinos and poor students than students overall between 1 998 and 2005, in the areas of reading and mathematics. However, even with these gains, gaps between demographic groups remain intact. 2005 fourth grade NAEP scores indicate persistent gaps between White students and their African American and Latino coun terparts. The achievement gaps between poor and non - poor fourth graders are persistent, as well. The average overall reading scale score in 2005 was 217. It was 199 for African Americans, 201 for Latinos and 203 for poor students. These scores represe nt gaps of 29, 27, and 27 points for African American, Latino, and poor students, respectively. The same trends are evident in the area of mathematics (Education Trust, 2006).

One way of combating these statistics is through education. Brewer, Hentschke, Eide, Kuzin and Nayfack (2007) write that education levels and earnings

3

have a strong, positive correlation that sustains over one’s lifetime and that education levels and social benefits, including improved health, are strongly, positively correlated. T his would indicate that education matters in the context of quality of life.

In addition to revealing the disparities between demographic groups, research, such as the work of DeNaves - Walt, Proctor, and Smith (2007) indicates that many of those living in p overty also correspondingly reside in metropolitan areas and that 52.4% of the poor in metropolitan areas also live in principal cities or urban areas. Not surprisingly, comparison data between urban and suburban schools indicate children in urban schools are not achieving at rates that are equal to those of their suburban counterparts (Thirunarayanan, 2004). These data are by no means recent or unexpected revelations. Knowledge of the discrepancies in student achievement that exist between suburban and urban schools has propelled decades - long efforts to reform urban schools; however, as the field data continue to reveal, the gaps in achievement still persist.

There has been a proliferation in the literature on leadership theories (Northouse, 2003). This work would clearly seem to indicate, that the leadership capacity of the school principal is critical in urban school reform. A great deal has been learned about the positive influence that certain behaviors and leadership attributes of the principal hav e on student outcomes (Marzano et al. , 2005). Thus, it can be argued, that principals are critical to the success of a school. However, the best teachers can rise to the ranks of the principalship but not have the knowledge or

4

skills to positively impact student learning; that level of expertise requires specialized training. In this regard, once again, research conducted by Davis, Darling - Hammond, LaPointe, and Meyerson (2005) indicates that heretofore, the training has not been sufficient for principa ls who lead urban schools. Or, even when the training has been sufficient, once on their own, graduates do not have the necessary support systems to expand their leadership capacities (Davis et al., 2005).

The factors described above are related to race a nd class, which are critical aspects of the context of urban schools. Cambron - McCabe and McCarthy (2005) assert that a consciousness about the impact of race and class on schools and students’ learning is at the forefront of social justice, and lament tha t leadership preparation programs do not adequately prepare school leaders to address such issues. They describe social justice as relating to moral values, justice, respect, care and equity. Certainly, if the statistical data on race and class in our co untry are to change, principals of urban schools need preparation and support systems that will enable their practice to ensure that social justice prevails for all students.

Statement of the Problem

Many urban school principals are knowledgeable of and sk illful in the broad categories of effective practices that are presented in the literature and implicit in professional leadership standards. Those broad categories as synthesized by Leithwood , Louis, Anderson and Wahlstrom are: Setting Directions, Devel oping People, and Redesigning the Organization (Leithwood, 2004). However, the achievement gaps between racial groups as well as between the poor and non - poor

5

remain. Additionally, urban schools are disproportionately represented among schools identified as failing to meet high stakes accountability targets. Various elements in urban schools contribute to social inequities that perpetuate the achievement gap.

Leaders are not adequately prepared to meet the challenges inherent in urban schools. What need s to be known is how principals can use what they learn in leadership preparation programs to prevent social inequities and thereby close the achievement gap.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study will be to examine how principals create the condi tions for social justice, and how the Pennsylvania Inspired Leadership Initiative (PIL), which uses curriculum developed by the National Institute for School Leadership (NISL), might strengthen

the leadership capacity of practicing principals in ways that subsequently have an influence on the practice of teachers they lead in urban settings.

Research Questions

The following research questions guided this study:

1.

How and why do urban principals create the conditions for social justice in their schools?

2.

What a re the expectations and attitudes of principals regarding the PIL training?

6

3.

How is the PIL executive leadership curriculum designed and delivered to build the capacity of urban school principals?

Significance of the Study

As a result of this study, policym akers and developers of leadership preparation / development programs will gain knowledge of specific features that are effective in building and sustaining leaders’ capacity to close the achievement gaps that are so prevalent in our nation’s schools. Add itionally, it will provide the participants in the study with empirical data that they can use as a compass to guide their journey of empowering their urban students through the implementation of promising leadership and teacher practices.

Assumptions

Cert ain assumptions have been made regarding this inquiry. One assumption is that the data collected from interviews, observations, existing documents and survey responses will reflect honest and accurate depictions of the experiences of the participants. Ano ther assumption is that the principals in the study will complete the PIL training as scheduled, including attending the workshops and fulfilling all required online assignments. Finally, it is assumed that principals who complete PIL will have the author ity to enact the leadership practices espoused in the PIL training.

Definitions of Terms

Some terms frequently used in the study have connotations that may differ from those in the common domain. The following operational definitions are offered to provid e clarity of meaning:

7

Academic achievement . Academic achievement is demonstrated achievement on grade - level standards, at levels sufficient to prepare students to perform proficiently in subsequent courses and on high - stakes tests.

Moral purpose . Having moral purpose relates to being driven and guided by a sense of purpose based upon what one values and perceives as being morally right, rather than being driven by other factors.

NISL . NISL is an acronym for the National Institute for School Leadership, w hich is an executive development program for school leaders.

Novice principal . A novice principal is a principal in the first or second year of service.

PIL . PIL is an acronym for the Pennsylvania Inspired Leadership Initiative , which has two components: the NISL curriculum and a mentoring component for first - year principals.

Social justice. Social justice refers to the condition in which all children, regardless of their racial, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or other margina lizing factors are treated with care, respect and dignity, and experience an educational program which ensures they acquire and maintain academic achievement, as defined above.

Urban school . The term urban school(s) refers to a school, or schools, located in a metropolitan area, with a diverse population and a high percentage of poor and minority students.

8

VAL - ED . VAL - ED is the acronym for the Vanderbilt Assessment of Leadership in Education, which is an assessment tool used to determine the effectiveness of principals’ learning - focused leadership behaviors.

Organization of the Dissertation

This dissertation study is composed of five chapters.

Chapter One provides an overview of the study and contains an introduction, the statement of the problem, the purp ose and significance of the study, research questions posed in the study, as well as assumptions and a list of the definitions of terms utilized in the study.

Chapter Two presents a review of the literature related to leadership theories, educational leade rship preparation programs, and the context of urban schools.

Chapter Three describes the research methodology used in the study, which includes an overview of the design and descriptions of the participants, instrumentation and procedures.

Chapter Four co ntains a report and discussion of the research findings, as well as reflection and insight into their meaning.

Chapter Five, the final chapter, presents the implications of the study. This final chapter also addresses how this study contributes to the kno wledge of principal preparation and support in the urban context and will identify and discuss needs for future research.

9

CHAPTER TWO

LITERATURE REVIEW

“An effective principal is not all that is required for an effective school, but it is very difficult t o have a good school without a good principal.” ( www.wallacefoundation.org )

Introduction

What is a good principal? More specifically, what skills, knowledge, behaviors, and beliefs does an effective urban school principal need in order to improve profess ional practice, organizational performance, and outcomes for students?

Is being a skillful manager, with instructional expertise and a strong belief that all students can learn, enough? Or does a successful urban school principal also need to have a sens e of moral purpose and the ability to lead others in a way that results in social justice for all children? And to further complicate our inquiry, how does one adequately define “social justice ,” why is it important in urban education, and how do school l eaders gain the ability to ensure it exists for all students? Are principals adequately prepared and supported for such an endeavor – leading for social justice?

Darling - Hammond, LaPoint, Meyerson, Orr and Cohen (2007) contend that the frequency in which principals have not been adequately prepared is a contributing factor related to a shortage of qualified administrators willing to work in the nation’s most challenging communities. Having found that most principal

10

preparation programs were outdated and o ut of touch with the realities and demands of the principalship, Darling - Hammond and her colleagues (2007) conducted a study of eight exemplary principal preparation programs for the purpose of adding to the knowledge base on the content, features and fina ncial aspects of developing and sustaining the leadership capacity of principals.

This chapter will examine the extant literature, including that of Darling - Hammond et al. (2007), that focuses on effective strategies that build the capacity of principals t o provide leadership which results in improved learning and high achievement for all students. It will do so through a synthesis of the literature on those leadership theories which show promise for urban school leaders: 1.) leadership for social justice , 2.) instructional leadership theory, 3.) transformational leadership theory and 4.) learning - centered leadership theory. Additionally, the literature review will present an analysis of research on educational leadership preparation programs and structur es designed to promote change, as well as the role of professional learning communities in improving schools and districts. As this research study is specific to the capacity building of urban school principals in a high stakes, standards - based, accountab ility environment, the context of urban schools will also be examined in this chapter. The review of the literature is conducted in order to develop a conceptual framework for successful leadership practice in urban school environments.

11

Leadership Theori es

The Nature of Leadership

Leadership is a complex, universal concept that has been studied and discussed throughout the ages. Bass (cited in Marzano et al. , 2005) writes that evidence of discussions about leadership can be found in ancient works and acr oss all cultures. While the notion of leadership can be distilled into cogent, precise definitions, its nature manifests in various ways and has been conceptualized in numerous models and theories. What seems to be a consensus among scholars is that the leader’s ability to influence is the critical attribute of leadership. Scholars also agree that goal attainment is integrally involved with leadership issues. Indeed, according to Northouse (2007), leadership occurs when a group is influenced toward acco mplishing a goal.

In Leadership: Theory and Practice, Northouse (2007) writes of two leadership perspectives – trait and process. Leadership is viewed by some as being determined by a set of innate characteristics or talents: qualities such as one’s phys ical stature, personality and/or natural abilities. This trait perspective of leadership is restrictive in that, depending on the identified traits, one either has the characteristics of a leader or one does not. In this point of view, leadership traits are considered to be inborn and therefore cannot be learned or acquired. Leadership development or preparation programs would seem to have no place within this perspective. Additionally, such an approach to leadership is culturally specific, in that a se t of traits that may be valued by one particular culture may not have the same

12

value in another. For example, Americans have been characterized as loving “aggressiveness” the so called “go getter” attitude, but in some cultures, aggressiveness is perceive d as being rude and arrogant.

Northouse (2007) describes another view of leadership as process. The process perspective sees leadership as a phenomenon that occurs in context and can be learned. Therefore, it is not restricted, but is available to everyo ne. This becomes important when considered in the context of preparing school leaders to promote school improvement, reshape the culture of their schools, and build capacity among their teachers.

In addition to the different perspectives of leadership, N orthouse (2007) distinguishes between two of its forms. He writes of assigned leadership as that which has been attained through one’s position in an organization. Examples of assigned leaders are supervisors, department heads, and directors. Assigned l eaders have authority, but not necessarily influence. The other form of leadership described by Northouse (2007) is emergent leadership . Emergent leadership belongs to the person who is most influential in the group. This kind of leadership emerges over

time as group members respond to the individual’s behavior with support and acceptance.

Transformational Leadership Theory

Transformational leadership is a theory of leadership practice that has garnered much attention and study. Scholars often refer to the classic works of James MacGregor Burns (1978) and Bass (1985 and 1990) when discussing the

13

theory of transformation al leadership. Burns and Bass’ works are rooted in the economic phenomena of the 1980s and 1990s when downsizing and globalization creat ed distress in many industries (Leithwood, 2005). Burns writes of a reciprocal relationship between leaders and followers and depicts transformational leaders as those who connect with their followers in ways that result in both the followers and the lead er actualizing their fullest potential (as cited in Northouse, 2007). The leader changes, or becomes transformed, through the process of transforming his/her followers.

Transformational leadership is sometimes described as being synonymous with House’s t heory of charismatic leadership (Northouse, 2007). A crucial element of similarity is that both theories hold that this type of leadership taps into the values, emotions and motives of followers. There is a moral component as well, especially as it rela tes to organizational goals. House posits that leadership of this type is particularly effective in stressful situations when members look to the leader to guide them in a way that unsnarls them from their troubled predicament (as cited in Northouse, 2007 ).

Building on the works of House (1976) and Burns (1978), Bass (1999) expanded the concept of transformational leadership by contending that transformational leaders influence their followers to reach high expectations by raising their levels of conscious ness about the importance and value of organizational goals. House (1976), Burns (1978), and Bass’ (1999) principles of leaders connecting with followers’ values, emotions and moral sensibilities to propel

14

them toward meeting idealized organizational goal s provide a foundation for the concept of educational leadership, which will be developed in the next section.

Educational Leadership

The literature on educational leadership defines leadership in similar terms as those cited about leadership in general. In Educational Leadership: A Review of the Research, Kenneth Leithwood (2005) defines leadership in much the same way as does Northouse (2007). Leithwood (2005) states that leadership has two core functions – setting directions and exercising influence – and that those two core functions can be carried out in different ways, using various models. Transformational leadership and instructional leadership are the two most prominent models found in the literature on educational leadership. Transformational leadership, as described above, is rooted in the downsizing and globalization of the 1980s and 1990s. By contrast, the concept of instructional leadership is rooted in the 1970s and 1980s, when prominent concerns about the nation’s cities called for stron g, hands - on, hero - leaders to turn inner city schools around (2005). According to Leithwood, instructional leaders focus on the “core technology” of schooling –

teaching and learning – and work within three categories of practice: defining the school’s mi ssion, managing the instructional program, and promoting a positive school climate (2005).

Effective Leadership Practice: Creating a Shared

Vision, Mission, and Goals

Hallinger (2003) found that the most influential instructional leader activities were tho se related to developing and executing the school mission. Leithwood,

15

Louis, Anderson, and Wahlstrom (2004) agree, stating that of the three leadership basics – setting directions, developing people, and redesigning the organization -

setting directions has the most impact, as it involves developing a sense of purpose or vision. They describe practices that carry out this leadership function as promoting vision, fostering acceptance of goals, and creating high expectations. It would stand to reason, then , that today’s urban principal must have the knowledge and skills needed to exercise leadership in developing a school vision.

Murphy, Elliott, Goldring, and Porter (2006) also cite vision for learning as being a key dimension of leadership in education. Their theory of learning - centered leadership posits that the vision should reflect high standards and expectations, but add that it should be developed by all stakeholders and contain student - centered goals. This gives credence to the notion that principa ls might also need to be skilled in sharing important organizational work with others.

Additionally, Murphy et al. (2006) state that a key responsibility of the school leader is to articulate the vision by modeling and communicating it in a variety of way s. In Leadership for Learning: A Research - Based Model and Taxonomy of Behaviors , Murphy et al. state that the school leader is the “keeper and promoter of the vision” (Murphy et al., 2006, p.6). One would argue, therefore, that in

addition to having th e capacity to lead in the development of the vision, an effective principal must also exemplify behaviors that promote the vision among all stakeholders.

Practices related to school vision are undoubtedly critical aspects of successful school leadership. As such, they are elaborated upon in the first of the

16

California Professional Standards for Educational Leaders, also known as the CPSELs, which addresses the facilitation, development, articulation, implementation and stewardship of a vision of learning ( West Ed, 2003).

The CPSELs were generated from the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) standards. Adopted in 1996, the ISLLC standards are national standards for school leaders. They present a common core of knowledge, dispositions and performances that are based on research which finds links between educational leadership, productive schools and outcomes for children (Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium, 1996). Because the CPSELs are so closely aligned to the ISLLCs, the CP SELs are useful throughout the country in any of the many states that use or have adapted the ISLLCs (West Ed, 2003). ISLLC Standard 1 also addresses the development, articulation, implementation and stewardship of the vision (Interstate School Leaders Li censure Consortium, 1996).

Full document contains 253 pages
Abstract: This was a mixed-methods, pre-intervention, multi-case study of urban school leadership. Two Kindergarten through eighth grade schools in a large urban school district were studied to examine: (1) factors involved in principals' ability to create the conditions for social justice; and (2) how a state-adopted leadership development program, using the National Institute for School Leadership (NISL) curriculum, might strengthen principals' capacity to influence the practice of their teachers. Qualitative data were collected from interviews, observations, and existing documents. Additionally, the Vanderbilt Assessment of Leadership in Education (VAL-ED) was used to collect survey data on the principals' leadership practices. A major finding of the study was that moral purpose must be accompanied by the active promotion and stewardship of a strong vision of achievement in order to create the conditions for social justice in urban schools. Another key finding, related to the state-adopted leadership training, was that principals' attitudes and expectations regarding the training evolved over time and was influenced by their peers as well as by specific information pertaining to the course content. A third major finding of this study was that the training facilitators' job-alike experience in the principalship, strengthened the NISL content and was a critical element in building urban principals' leadership capacity. Implications that arose from the study pertained to principals spending quality time setting directions at their schools, the dissemination of information regarding principal training and the benefit of carefully selecting leadership development trainers who have had experience in the principalship. Additionally, while it was not the focus of the study, an implication regarding principals' response to high-stakes accountability also arose.