Testing, Standards, & Accountability: Overview
Accountability System-State or district policies related to holding districts, schools, and/or students responsible for performance. School and district accountability systems typically include efforts to assess and rate schools or districts based on student performance, and to provide rewards and sanctions for schools or districts based on performance or improvement over time.
Provided by Education Week.
In recent years, all 50 states have implemented accountability measures in response to increasing concerns about the quality of American education. And reasons for concern exist.
A recent comparison of student achievement in mathematics, science and reading literacy at the eighth grade level found that student performance in the United States averaged below the performance in 14 countries1. It is not necessarily the capability of the American education system that is in question. Rather, it is the wide disparities that exist within the American education system that warrant attention. Indicators such as race and ethnicity, economic status, geography and parental education drastically effect the quality of education students are receiving2. Students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, urban environments, or racially diverse families typically do not perform as well on assessments when compared to their peers.
To help close this "achievement gap," states are seeking more accountability from their schools. Earlier attempts at reform focused on school inputs and processes, such as complying with regulations and funding allocations. A 1995 report by the National Education Association (NEA), however, found that states were beginning to shift their focus towards student outcomes. States began adopting standards and tools to assess student performance with the expectation that all children can achieve a certain performance level. This trend in education reform has become known as standards-based accountability.
A standards-based accountability system sets goals in the form of standards, assigns responsibilities for meeting those goals, and holds the system accountable for its performance. Under this type of system, the state's role changes from ensuring compliance with regulations, to providing incentives and offering technical assistance to build school capacity. State officials prescribe the outcomes, but the choices about instructional methods and practices are left for the professional educators to decide.
President George W. Bush's new education package, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB),adopted this trend as the foundation for reform. Over the next several years, states receiving federal funds for education are required to continue to implement standards-based accountability measures into their education system.
Making states, districts and schools accountable for the performance of their students has become a popular topic among policymakers and the education community. After decades of focusing on inputs, such as funding levels, curriculum offerings and resources, policymakers are now emphasizing student learning and achievement outcomes as the means of gauging an education system. This trend is referred to as a standards-based accountability system.
Standards-based accountability systems emphasize student achievement by setting goals in the form of standards. It holds the system accountable by assigning responsibilities for meeting those goals and attaching rewards and sanctions to specific performance levels. Parents are notified of student, school and district performance through report cards. This new approach in education reform is quite a change from traditional systems that focused mainly on inputs as the mechanism for improvement.
This shift in policy alters the state's role, as well. States are now expected to set standards, develop an assessment system and provide technical assistance to help build school capacity. State officials prescribe the desired outcomes, but the decisions to meet those goals are first reserved for the professional educators.
Statewide standards and assessments form the foundation of an effective standards-based accountability system. Standards need to be rigorous enough to challenge students, without being set so high that they are unachievable or discouraging. They need to be aligned with the curriculum so that the material being taught in the classrooms allows students to achieve the desired goals.
After establishing standards, state policymakers turn their attention to creating statewide assessment systems that include report cards, accreditation, sanctions and rewards. States use various testing methods and other indicators, such as attendance, graduation and dropout rates, to measure academic achievement. Assessments need to be aligned with the curriculum and standards, as well. The material students are being tested on must align with what is being taught in class, and the assessments need to be developed so that students are being tested on their progress toward meeting the desired goals.
While this appears to be the method for creating effective accountability systems, questions are emerging about how to include all students and how to establish fair assessments, performance levels and sufficient rewards and sanctions. As mentioned earlier, nearly all 50 states have implemented standards-based accountability systems. The National Center for Educational Outcomes provides links to most of the current state accountability, standards and assessment policies. State policies will have to be amended however, if states want to continue receiving federal funding under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). NCLB is the most revolutionary education policy since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. It greatly expands the federal government's role in education and places an increased focus on standards and assessments as the measures of school performance. As NCLB begins to take effect across the country, policymakers are going to be called on to make changes to existing state laws and provide additional funding to help states comply.
Following is a list of resources on education accountability systems.
Consortium for Public Research in Education (CPRE)
Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)
Education Commission of the States (ECS)
State-Level Policies Involving the Accreditation of Public Schools (1998)
National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE)
NationalCenter for Education Accountability (NCEA)
NationalCenter for Policy Analysis (NCPA) Accountability Works: Testing Won't Be Costly
Schools Respond to Accountability Incentives
National Governors Association (NGA)