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This policy study critically compares two different efforts to implement an accountability system in the New York City public schools. In 1971, the New York City Board of Education contracted with the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which created a lengthy accountability plan for the district. Fitful maneuvers to execute the ETS plan fizzled out by 1978. Roughly three decades later, New York City educational leaders publicly championed school accountability as a chief goal. By 2003, formal accountability system planning had commenced; in 2007, an accountability system went fully operational, with New York City public schools receiving a published letter grade that ranged from A-F. This study demonstrates how the maturation of a national education policy paradigm (standards-based school accountability) coalesced with several contextual factors (money, power, principals, and public relations) to enable successful system implementation in the 2000s. Importantly, this work also demonstrates how African-American community representatives and leaders in New York City contributed to the nascent movement for accountability in the 1970s, yet the voices of underrepresented and underserved populations were largely absent in the 2000s implementation effort. Finally, events in both eras illustrate how educational accountability can play an important symbolic role by transmitting political messages.