“Seeing the whole elephant”: Changing mindsets and empowering stakeholders to meaningfully manage accountability and improvement


  • Susan Bush-Mecenas University of Southern California
  • David Montes de Oca CORE Districts
  • Julie Marsh University of Southern California
  • Heather Hough Policy Analysis for California Education




accountability, assessment, improvement


School accountability and improvement policy are on the precipice of a paradigm shift. While the multiple-measure dashboard accountability approach holds great promise for promoting more meaningful learning opportunities for all students, our research indicates that this can come with substantial challenges in practice. We reflect upon the lessons learned from our recent research on the CORE districts’ use of multiple-measure data dashboards. Our research indicated that a shift to greater flexibility and locally determined capacity building efforts brings its own set of challenges. Building on this foundation and drawing upon the expertise of a central practitioner-leader, we explore these issues through one promising case: the use of these multiple-measure accountability systems in one CORE district, Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). OUSD’s approach suggests that districts have substantial agency to help modify the mindsets of practitioners and the community, by modeling the values of inquiry, openness, and flexibility. By loosening the reigns, districts can give school stakeholders the space and authority to meaningfully manage their own accountability and improvement.


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Author Biographies

Susan Bush-Mecenas, University of Southern California

Susan Bush-Mecenas is a PhD candidate and Provost/Final Year fellow at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education. Her research interests include organizational learning, district reform, district and school capacity building, and accountability policy.

David Montes de Oca, CORE Districts

David Montes de Oca is the Deputy Chief of Improvement for the CORE Districts. Formerly he served as Senior Deputy Chief of the Office of Post-Secondary Readiness for Oakland Unified School District.

Julie Marsh, University of Southern California

Julie A. Marsh, PhD, is an associate professor of education policy at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education and specializes in research on K-12 policy. Her research blends perspectives in education, sociology, and political science. Her research focuses on the implementation and effects of accountability and instructional reform policies, including the roles of central office administrators, intermediary organizations, and community members in educational reform and the use of data to guide decision making.

Heather Hough, Policy Analysis for California Education

Heather Hough, PhD, is executive director of the CORE-PACE Research Partnership at Policy Analysis for California Education. Her area of expertise is in district- and state-level policymaking and implementation, with a particular focus on teacher compensation, support, and accountability; policy coherence; and system improvement.




How to Cite

Bush-Mecenas, S., Montes de Oca, D., Marsh, J., & Hough, H. (2018). “Seeing the whole elephant”: Changing mindsets and empowering stakeholders to meaningfully manage accountability and improvement. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 26, 10. https://doi.org/10.14507/epaa.26.3440



Redesigning Systems of Assessment and Accountability