Accountability: Just One Piece of the School Reform Puzzle

School reform can no longer rely mostly on inputs—that is, giving schools more resources and more support. In order for schools to really help the students on hand, the past must play a role and so must the individual needs of the school.

Do standards and accountability work?

Time has shown that inputs have no real impact on student performance. Federal edicts, such as NCLB, have enforced protocols based on standards, testing, and accountability. Standards emphasize performance objectives and require high levels of accountability from educators.

Required reform and accountability, particularly those which impose sanctions similar to those imposed by NCLB, often create much stress and anxiety. This certainly has been the case since NCLB went into effect. Many educators ask whether it is fair to hold schools accountable for student achievement. And, even if it is “fair,” how are we to measure such achievement? What testing and evaluation formulas will be used?  The answers to questions like the above are not easy. Obviously, achievement can only be guaranteed if we assess it in some way. However, current assessment models are flawed.

Research exists to suggest that standards and accountability may improve learning for some disadvantaged students, particularly those with disabilities. When some schools implement accountability guidelines, they promote an environment of increased collaboration among educators and created an environment where teachers expected disabled students to perform better, which in turn encouraged better learning outcomes.

Some countries have been able to show effective and useful outcomes based on their use of certain accountability policies. However, American policy-makers and researchers still do not have any real evidence that these latest accountability reforms are working to improve the performance of the vast majority of students.

What’s the argument surrounding accountability?

Conversations around school accountability have been polarized. Politicians and parents often want to hold schools and teachers completely responsible for student achievement. Teachers point to disinterested students and uninvolved parents, saying that there is only so much they can do. But studies have shown that if teachers and students work together, and schools hold themselves accountable, great strides can be made. All of this discussion of accountability and standards is intended to bring us to a place where schools are performing better and our children are learning.

Researchers at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas observed positive strides toward improved learning outcomes among a variety of middle schools. The researchers believed that improvement strategies must not only improve learning, but also develop responsiveness and social equity. While studying middle schools, they found that teachers at high-performing schools were using teaching strategies that required students to think critically, and strategies that involved the use of real-world problems.

These teachers were not simply teaching abstract ideas or teaching to the test. They noted that student achievement can be improved when students receive recognition for efforts such as note-taking and doing homework, as well as having the opportunities to work collaboratively in groups and engage in active learning like the testing of hypothesis.

These findings show that the type of assessment or accountability that NCLB brings is not the be all and end all of the teaching equation. Rather, the quality of instruction is the biggest part of learning. It is paramount that we continue to work toward a more balanced solution, finding ways to encourage quality instruction, while also monitoring results.

Inputs alone cannot properly reform a school or district; it takes constant monitoring and understanding of the student population to effect change that will positively impact the students it is meant to serve.



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