If a school had deficiencies or problems as revealed in the data about achievement and performance, the main idea was that improvement was to be the order of the day.
Did this mean that better attention was required to diagnosing the specific learning problems of students? Or was it teaching in a manner truer to the standards? Or helping teachers know and practice the most effective and proven strategies that would enhance student learning? Or better constituting the time spent or use of all resources in the school to achieve improved learning? It meant all these things and more. It meant prodding and helping schools and their personnel to respond to data with positive action that would enhance student learning.
Did it also mean being honest and transparent in identifying and disclosing to all parties in interest the status of learning in the schools? Yes, indeed. Though this is not an easy thing to do or something that can be made completely right all the time, it is vital to be specific and open about success and failure in any enterprise where results matter.
Does this identification sometimes lead to more dramatic, even perhaps painful, change, including change in personnel or more dramatic alterations in the way schooling is done? Yes. But it can and absolutely should also, and perhaps much more frequently, lead to rewards and praise and other positive consequences that are appropriate to growth and improvement.
What is totally mystifying, given the intent and indeed the language of most statutory and policy language on accountability, is how accountability has come to be thought of principally as a stick, as a device to shame and and harm educators. There’s only so much blame folks can foist on others, including the feds, for this. After all, the decisions about how to implement accountability are almost entirely delegated in most federal and state policy to local districts. This means school boards, administrators, and school leaders. If they, and their publics, want accountability to be administered in a rigorous but fair and constructive way, one wonders why they simply don’t do it.
Along these lines, here’s my new year’s suggestion: I want every state, school district, and school to look at the practice guides published by the Institute of Education Sciences that are made available in the link below and use them. There is in these guides extraordinarily good, practical research on how to respond to many of the problems that cause low achievement levels. These practice guides, if followed, would be one fantastic set of tools to deploy as constructive consequences in a solid accountability system.
If the problem is deficiency in English language acquisition, or inability to move to algebra from arithmetic, or weakness in adolescent literacy, or proclivity to dropout, or any of a number of other areas that have research-based solutions, these practice guides are a magnificent place to begin to find solutions.
Let’s make a new year’s resolution: let’s all put these practice guides (along with equally rigorous research) front and center in our work to develop appropriate accountability consequences in 2016. By the end of the year, we’ll have a much healthier view of what accountability can be and do, and we and the students will be far better off for it.