Last week, several Teach Plus teachers spoke on Capitol Hill about how federal accountability policy has impacted their teaching. Speaking passionately about their students, classrooms, and schools, these teachers emphasized that federal law must ensure high expectation for all groups of students and prompt meaningful action and support when any group is not making progress. Here are some themes from what they said:

Act when there’s a problem. When Melissa Tracy started teaching at Conrad Schools of Science in Wilmington, Delaware, she said people referred to it as “the dumping ground of the district and the state” because it’s where the district concentrated its high-poverty students. After her first year, the state intervened and the school made a series of changes — increasing instructional time, strengthening curriculum, changing some of the staff and leadership, improving school climate, and using data to inform instruction. Improvement took a lot of hard work and didn’t happen overnight, but eight years later, Conrad is now one of the top-performing schools in the state. “We need a clear time frame when a school is consistently underperforming,” she said. “We can’t afford any more old Conrads.”

Her Teach Plus colleague Chris Hoffman, a fourth-grade teacher in Los Angeles, agreed. Without accountability that compels districts and schools to improve, “it’s akin to saying that I — as a teacher — can give tests, find that these kids can’t read well, and place them in the corner on the side.”

Serve all students. Secondary math teacher Corey Morrison said his Chicago school always had a stellar reputation for being successful. But that was for schoolwide averages only. Disaggregated data showed that they weren’t serving all students at the same level. Since implementing programs to get more students of color ready for Advanced Placement classes, though, they’ve seen progress. He said, “We can’t afford to take a step backwards by masking these types of disparities. It’s taken years for people to start changing the conversation from ‘the black students can’t learn’ to ‘we need to do something different to help them learn.’ If we go back, we’ll lose that.”

Remember that accountability is about helping kids. The night before the Capitol Hill briefing, Raquel Maya Carson went to her school’s parent-teacher meeting, where she regularly updates parents on their children’s progress and any changes to instruction or interventions, based on the achievement data they monitor. “Our families trust that when their student isn’t progressing, we’ll put interventions in place and modify our instruction so their child gets support,” said the second-grade dual language teacher. She hopes a reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently in the works in Congress, will carry that same student-centered focus and give the most underserved students the interventions and resources they need.