Accountability for Student Success


By Judy Seltz

AccountabilityCurrent debate over the Common Core State Standards, the PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments, educator evaluation, and other education reform efforts has created significant noise. At ASCD, we want to get beyond this noise to address some key questions.

  • What is student success? What is the best way to judge whether a student is ready to move to the next grade?
  • What is the best way to judge whether a student is ready for life beyond high school? How do we define college and career readiness?

We support a focus on student success and recognize that the right accountability system is an important tool for achieving better outcomes. When done correctly, accountability can play an integral role in improving student learning and well-being. A system that is primarily focused on the narrowest kind of academic achievement, on the other hand, constricts the curriculum and contributes to performance gaps, student disengagement, and high school graduates that are underprepared for college or careers. Such systems fail to measure highly valued skills such as collaboration and problem solving and spark a backlash among teachers and parents, two critical groups that support education improvements.

We’ve had several discussions with education leaders at both the policy and practice levels, and these discussions have shaped our thinking about what a new vision of accountability should look like.

  • A new accountability model should be grounded in our ultimate college-, career-, and citizenship-readiness goals for students. Such a model must be based on both final outcome measures that serve as approximations of our ultimate goals and leading indicators that gauge whether we are on track in getting students to the finish line.
  • Accountability systems must do a better job of reflecting the full purpose of education. We need to have a broader dialogue about how to measure the array of skills and dispositions that make up a full education.
  • We need to shift from our current punitive and consequence-based accountability system to an approach that drives continuous improvement and builds district and school capacity. This transition goes hand in hand with rebuilding trust in the teaching profession and improving the preparation, ongoing development, and support of educators.

As we think about what it will take to implement a new accountability model with these characteristics, we will have to grapple with some important questions.

  • How do we balance the need for an accountability system that more fully reflects our educational goals with a need to maintain a tight focus on the outcomes that matter? Accountability must avoid becoming so expansive that it fails to provide schools with useful direction or distracts from our end goals for students.
  • What is the appropriate level of local input and flexibility? Individual schools or districts should be able to tell their stories and align their accountability systems with local priorities while continuing to evaluate all schools against agreed-upon standards.
  • How do we measure and incorporate valuable information that is not based on tests into next-generation accountability? We know soft skills (sometimes called the “new hard skills”) are crucial for long-term success, but we haven’t determined the best ways to measure them or incorporate them into accountability systems.

There is important work to do on reimagining accountability so that it supports student, educator, and school success. The ASCD Forum on next-generation accountability is soliciting educator feedback on how accountability can help—not hinder—their work to support the whole child. I invite you to participate by joining the Forum group on ASCD EDge® or using #ASCDForum on Twitter.