What is accountability?

11/10/2014
 
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In a recent Washington Post story, “School standardized testing is under growing attack, leaders pledge changes,” we learn that many people have started to revolt against standardized tests. 

Examples uncovered from the Post:

-Four states have delayed or repealed standardized testing necessary for graduation.

-Over 60,000 students in New York flat out refused to take standardized tests. 

-Bill Clinton commented on the frequency of standardized testing saying, “I think doing one [test] in elementary school, one in the end of middle school and one before the end of high school is quite enough if you do it right.”

-Top education leaders representing 100s of schools vowed to eliminate standardized tests lacking quality or needlessly repeating content. 

-Current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made promises to examine the state of standardized testing and do something about it.

The sore spot

Much of the angst over standardized tests finds its roots in the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act or NCLB. NCLB requires states to test all grade 3 through 8 students in reading and math in every year. High schoolers also have to take a standardized test but only once.

People have become upset not just at the frequency of the tests but at what happens if a school doesn’t do well. NCLB metes out consequences if schools don’t meet "adequate yearly progress”.  . 

Adequate yearly progress differs by states but involves minimum levels of improvement as measured by standardized tests (and these vary from state to state). If after two years a school finds itself “in need of improvement” consequences occur. The consequences include giving parents 1. school transfer options (they can take their children out of the failing school and have them enroll in a better one; 2. providing students with supplemental services involving tutoring or other educational services; 3. corrective action which means where school staff and curricula get replaced; 4. restructuring where the entire school undergo a serious transformation - like getting rid of the principal, most of the staff, and changing the school into a charter school or other dramatic shifts.

NCLB had a basic idea, provide a clear set of guidelines for improvement, enforce those guidelines with standardized testing, and deliver consequences for those who do not meet the goals. Thus, accountability has teeth.

Accountability Chartlytics style

As the news story in the Post goes, many people have reacted strongly to how accountability has played out. While it might seem easy to quickly take a side and reduce the issues to “Testing is bad, get rid of all of them!” or “Fire all the teachers who don’t produce results!” (you can find both of those sides in articles and blogs), a thoughtful perspective examines the good and bad in accountability driven systems.

A problem resides with the direct link between standardized tests and teacher action.

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Figure 1. A diagram showing the relationships between content taught and assessment.

Students attend school to learn content (first grade math, second grade reading, fifth grade science etc.). At each local school a teacher will teach the content for the selected content area to a student. Then, at the end of the year the student may take a standardized test that evaluates what the teacher taught and what the students has learned.

The academic content taught by the teacher and the standardized test might significantly differ. Therefore, if a student performs poorly on the standardized test the state passes judgement that the teacher did a poor job teaching (because the student didn’t learn according to the standardized test result). 

Accountability seems hit or miss in a system where teacher don’t have a clear idea on the assessment standards. 

The education system has attempted to rectify the problem of differing standards with a “Common Core.” But that content remains a post for another day. What does Chartlytics have to offer when it comes to accountability?

The key ingredient of Chartlytics lies in a standard measurement system, not a standardized test.The standard measurement system involves:

-pinpointing a behavior (highest and most accurate level of describing behavior)
-measuring and recording a behavior’s (pinpoint’s) frequency
-displaying the recorded counts (frequency) of behavior on a standard visual display (called a Standard Celeration Chart)
-carefully inspecting the results on a Standard Celeration Chart to determine the need for a change to the current educational program

As described above, accountability has a different flavor with Chartlytics. The figure below shows how each individual’s performance links to teacher action.

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Figure 2. Chartlytics assessment system

With Chartlytics, teachers employ a measurement system with standards defining what they will label as a measure, the precise metric they will use to capture performance and learning, and how to display the data. Therefore, student progress directly reflects the instructional environment arranged by the teacher. Additionally, the focus on changing and improving student performance pervades the Chartlytics system. 

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