ASCD Educators Envision A Better Accountability Approach

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Forum on AccountabilityBy David Griffith and Katie Freeman 

“Accountability can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people,” said ASCD President Nancy Gibson during the face-to-face session of the ASCD Forum on accountability at ASCD’s Annual Conference. The forum, a conversation among ASCD members and educators from around the world that began on February 2, is focused on envisioning a next-generation accountability system that promotes a whole child approach to education.

The forum participants explored four topics during the facilitated session on Sunday, March 22: defining student success; multiple measures of accountability; student, family, and community engagement; and accountability for continuous improvement. They agreed on several key themes.

  • Prepared students are successful students: When asked to define student success, most participants referenced preparation in some way—for college, careers, citizenship, and life.
  • Everyone is accountable: It was noted that students, parents, teachers, and community members are all accountable in different ways. Attendees urged recasting accountability as something to cultivate among all stakeholders, instead of using it to hold others responsible.
  • Start with the end in mind: Participants agreed that accountability systems are often built around specific measures. Instead, they observed, educators and policymakers should specify goals, and then create measures to support them. “Because it’s easy to meet or easy to collect” isn’t a good reason for a metric.
  • Accountability isn’t one-size-fits-all: Similarly, attendees emphasized that schools and districts must be able to define accountability measures according to their communities’ goals. Measures created at higher levels can lose meaning when applied and interpreted at local levels.
  • Multiple measures are a must: There was consensus that giving schools a single grade doesn’t reflect nuances in performance and improvement. Instead, a school’s report card should be like a child’s report card, with multiple grades for different areas. Participant and facilitator Laurie McCullough quipped, “A child doesn’t say, ‘I got an A in school this year.’”
  • Emphasize growth: The conversation highlighted the need to recognize improvement, not just the absolute performance of kids, teachers, and schools at a given moment in time. Accountability, agreed participants, should reflect the fact that learning at all levels is a process, not an event. The focus should be less on ratings and sanctions and more on progress and support.
  • Students should come first: Participants also noted that students are often marginalized in accountability discussions, when they are actually the best at defining their own success. They reflected that educators should meet students where they are, considering individual accomplishments and celebrating differences; learning isn’t an assembly line.

We’d like to thank ASCD members Fred Ende, Heidi Janes, Laurie McCullough, and Kevin Parr for facilitating the fruitful conversation as well as all of the other educators who participated in the discussion.