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What is accountability?

Rick Kubina
Nov 10, 2014 12:00:00 AM
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In a 2014 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. Voices are crying out against what seems like pointless and even harmful "accountablity".

Some argue our students are tested too frequently, or that the tests lack meaning. Here are some examples gleaned 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  • Four states have delayed or repealed standardized testing necessary for graduation.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. 
  • 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 (NCLB). NCLB requires American states to test students in grades 3-8 in reading and math every year. High schoolers also have to take one standardized test. The disquietude arises not just at the frequency of tests, but at what happens if a school doesn’t do well. NCLB metes out consequences if schools don’t meet "adequate yearly progress”. 

This "adequate yearly progress" differs by state, 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 in which parents can remove their children from a failing school and  enroll them in a better one;

2. providing students with supplemental services including tutoring or other educational services;

3. corrective action in which school staff and curricula are replaced;

4. restructuring in which the entire school undergo a serious transformation - like getting rid of the principal, most of the staff, and/or changing the school into a charter school.

NCLB's basic idea was accountability: 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. 

But was the problem with NCLB the frequency of testing? The type of tests? The meaningfulness of tests? Or the high-stakes impact of testing poorly?

Accountability Chartlytics style

As the news story in the Post goes, many have reacted strongly to how accountability has played out. Some argue that “Testing is bad, get rid of it all!” or “Fire all the teachers who don’t produce results!” (you can find both of those sides in articles and blogs).

But what's the purpose of education in the first place? Learner achievement. And what's the purpose of testing? We at Chartlytics argue that it's meant to show teachers and behavior professionals how to adapt curriculum and programs to the learner. Because "the learner is always right," and it is our privileged responsibility to help them on the path to success. 

Our measurement science bridges the gap between teacher action and learner success. But do standardized tests offer the same connection?

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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 judgment that the school 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" — and we won't delve into the mine of educational policy today.

But we will discuss what Chartlytics offers.

Accountability: Connecting instruction with outcome

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

In short, the assessment (timings of frequency) provides data on whether the instruction is effective for the learner — and if not, whether the teacher or behavior professional should make a change. 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 standardized 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. 

Because we test to help us help them, after all.

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