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Clear, Understandable Accountability System Can Help Students Progress

Accountability systems need to be clear and transparent so they can provide information that parents and educators alike can use to help students progress.

Article by Anne Wicks March 16, 2017 //   3 minute read

One of the most important reasons for creating informative school accountability systems, if not the most important reason, is to track and use information to help students progress.

Data captured via a transparent accountability system can help identify the right interventions for students. It could identify the need for a higher quality curriculum to help students better learn a subject.  Or it could show whether students are on course for high school graduation and success in college or a career beyond 12th grade.

Those of us who favor raising standards, assessing whether students are meeting those standards, and attaching some consequences to the results have too often assumed that our position was widely understood and appreciated.  Wrong.  We simply need to communicate better, especially with parents.

This point has come through repeatedly in interviews the Bush Institute has been conducting this year with district and state leaders.  Proponents of accountability have not made it clear that these systems are intended to actually help students.  Our communications gap has allowed others to broadly (and mistakenly) categorize accountability as a way to “blame and shame” hard-working teachers and students.

Creating and implementing accountability systems is difficult and nuanced work.  Teachers and principals do many things for kids each day, many of which have value, many of which can be tracked. But, to be helpful, accountability systems also need to be clear and transparent, especially about what the data mean. Not all data points are equal, and we must make judgments about what is most important to measure when it comes to academic achievement and school culture.

Consider this Los Angeles Times editorial about California’s attempt to use a data dashboard in its revised accountability system. As the LA Times says, “The dashboard has morphed into a tough-to-understand jumble of pie charts, ratings and text offering measurements of a school’s performance on nearly a dozen different factors, some obviously relevant and others not so much.”

Take a look at the slide show included in the link above. It shows that the new data dashboard runs 38 slides long. The dashboard is so complicated that few, if any, parents or educators are going to understand it – or even attempt to understand the system.

By contrast, the leaders of Parent Revolution have offered a far simpler way to report on a school’s progress. It proposes using two data sets to measure campuses, using both academic and non-academic factors. As the LA Times says, this approach could answer a critical question, what does all of this mean?

Indeed, that is the question.  And it is why accountability systems need to be clear and transparent. Then, and only then, can they provide information that parents and educators alike can use to help students progress.