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Accountability Principles

Article by George W. Bush Presidential Center February 13, 2015 //   10 minute read

As policymakers continue to debate the federal role in education, the Bush Institute offers these Accountability Principles on the importance of annual assessments, timely and transparent reporting, and strong state accountability systems to parents, teachers, and taxpayers.

George W. Bush Institute Accountability Principles

The success of every student reading and doing math on grade level is vital to the future success of our nation. Annual assessment data is critical to inform parents, teachers, and the public about how all students are performing and no doubt has added to the focus on poor and minority students and their resulting increases in student achievement.

Annual, comparable, statewide assessments also give state and district leaders the ability to focus resources on problem areas, find strategies that work, and reward results. Without this information, we are back to the days of spending taxpayer money and hoping for the best.

Over the past several decades, a foundation of standards and assessments in the states has been laid that has resulted in better information about how students are performing and increases in scores on the Nation’s Report Card, especially for poor and minority students.  Now is not the time to reopen or re-litigate the progress that has been made.

Furthermore, timely and transparent reporting of data will keep the focus rightly on students and increasing student achievement within the education system.  Parents also need truth-in-advertising when it comes to assessments at the school, district, state and federal level.  Parents deserve reports that are easy to understand in order to make the best choices in education for their children.

Strong state accountability systems are critical for parents to exercise choice and for education systems to improve to positively impact student achievement.

Annual Assessments

We support retaining annual, statewide, comparable student assessments in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school and grade-span science exams. These critically important accountability tools provide necessary transparency and objective information for parents and policymakers. The transparency that resulted from annual assessments, with data broken down by categories such as race, income, and gender, resulted in unprecedented gains in student achievement, especially for poor and minority students, on the Nation’s Report Card.

Annual, Statewide, Comparable Assessments and Public Reporting: We support the following call from the business, civil rights and disabilities coalition on annual assessments and reporting:

*All students must be assessed by the states in reading and math on a statewide assessment annually in grades 3-8, as well as at least once in high school, so they and their parents know where they are on state standards;

*The results of those assessments must be reported publicly, both overall and for all groups of students, so parents and taxpayers have honest, consistent information on how their schools are performing;

Parents, Educators, and the Public Need Clear Information: We believe parents need annual, objective information to make decisions and choices about education for their children. Clear and reliable data from annual, comparable statewide tests tells parents whether their children are meeting state standards. If annual achievement data is not available, a parent will not have a way to compare how their child is performing each year compared to other children in the state.

Truth-in-Advertising: In addition to the once-a-year tests in reading and math that federal law requires, states and districts have too often added burdensome benchmark tests that fuel the call for reductions in testing.  Parents need better information on the different types of testing, who requires the tests, and the purpose of the tests.  Parents deserve to know the facts about these frequent benchmark tests that are not required by federal law, and states and districts should be asked to report this information to parents.

Annual Testing Provides Objective Information on Student Progress: We believe in knowing how every student is doing in every grade, whether low or high income, behind or advanced, students with disabilities, English language learners, white, African-American, Hispanic students or any other minority. Annual, disaggregated information helps to spotlight and close the persistent achievement gap.  In addition, while alternate assessments should be allowed for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, they should be limited to a small percentage of students. Prior to the requirement for annual assessments that was instituted in 2002, few states had annual, norm or criterion-referenced assessments in place.  We must care enough about our students to find out how they are doing and confront the issues that performance data reveals.

Annual, Statewide Assessments Allow Comparability: A valid, reliable, and independent state test allows taxpayers, parents and educators to make comparisons of student performance between schools and districts. Without annual assessments, it is not possible to effectively measure student growth from year to year or ensure robust choice and charter programs that allow parents to know how schools are doing every year.

Timely and Easy to Understand: Parents need information and report cards about student and school performance that are timely, not buried on a website and easy to understand. The spotlight for parents and taxpayers will inform them with the information they need to be educated consumers.

Responsible Taxpayer Policy: We believe in accountability for results for taxpayer dollars. The federal government’s role should be discrete and judicious, allowing state and local policymakers to make day-to- day classroom decisions about the education students are receiving.  However, in exchange for the nearly $15 billion in federal education funding that states and districts receive to improve education for poor and minority students, it is right and reasonable to expect states to test annually in order to know how every school and every student is performing every year. 

Strong State Accountability Systems and Consequences to Drive Change

*Strong Accountability Drives Student Achievement: We support the following call from the business, civil rights and disabilities coalition for strong accountability systems: States must establish accountability systems that expect faster improvement for the groups of children who have lagged behind, and prompt action when any group of students underperforms, so parents can have confidence that their children matter and that schools will partner with them in getting them to state standards and graduating with a regular diploma.

*Significant, Effective Remedies and Consequences to Drive Change:Research shows that consequences tied to assessments result in increases in student achievement for students in those schools.  Therefore, while we support more flexibility for states to design specific consequences and interventions for their schools, we believe that in exchange for federal funds, states should include consequences in their state accountability plans.  State accountability systems should expect and support all students to make enough progress every year so that they graduate from high school ready for college and career.

*Closing the Achievement Gaps: We support the following call from the business, civil rights and disabilities coalition for accountability to close the achievement gaps in state plans and statewide accountability systems that expect and support all students to graduate from high school ready for college and career:

*States must set public statewide improvement and gap-closing goals on at least assessments and graduation rates to improve student outcomes.

*Those goals must be translated into improvement targets for districts and schools for students overall and for all subgroups, with greater progress expected for groups that have been behind.

*Performance against those targets must be the predominant factor in statewide school accountability systems, with other indicators making up the rest. Performance against targets must also be a significant factor in district accountability systems, though these appropriately also include measures of support for schools, success with school turnaround, equity in distribution of key resources like dollars and teachers, and the like.

*States must specify how schools that exceed targets will be rewarded, and what the consequences — interventions, supports, ratings — will be for schools that don’t meet their targets, including how students in persistently underperforming schools will get the supports they need to meet state standards.

*Where plans call for districts to be first responders, states must specify how they will monitor district performance and intervene for non-performance.

Peer Review on State Plans: We support the independent and transparent peer review of state accountability plans. The peer reviewers and their recommendations on the approval or disapproval of state accountability plans should be made public, and the Secretary of Education should generally be required to follow the recommendations of the peers.

Public Charter and School Choice provisions

*We support robust charter and choice provisions for parents who have limited quality options for their children.  Their students cannot wait year after year for schools to turn around.

*We encourage flexibility of federal funding for parents to choose what works including Title I portability.

Flexibility and a Focus on What Works

*We support flexibility and a streamlining of the various programs that are in NCLB.  Adding layers upon layers and different programs without a true re-write does a disservice to states finding what works to increase student achievement.

*The reauthorization of NCLB can focus on an effective federal role which provides Title I flexibility and consolidates funding for greater efficiency.