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Aurora Institute

Thoughts on a new accountability paradigm

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Susan Patrick

Issue(s): State Policy, Redesign Accountability Systems for Continuous Improvement

Recently, I was asked about starting a conversation on how a new accountability system might work.

The potential of new learning models that are personalized, student-centered and utilize powerful delivery modes in blended and online learning offer a glimpse into solving some of the core problems across our education systems
for focusing on equity, improving access and expanding educational opportunity.

I think of this as a system aligned to student-centered learning. Meaningful data at the instructional level and systems of assessments provide much richer data than our current system utilizes. Imagine student data and evidence of students demonstrating their proficiency level (through a performance) on each and every standard along a learning progression.

Student-centered learning requires knowing where students are when they enter a program and requiring “systems of assessments” with entry benchmark assessment, formative assessments, performance-based assessments producing student evidence of demonstrated mastery, and underlying assessments producing various forms of data. Ultimately, this collection of data could answer the question, “How much learning is happening per unit of time?” — and help get to the heart of productivity.

One of the field’s constraints on thinking about new accountability is the construction of current IT/SIS systems designed only to ensure compliance with current regime.

Rethink student-centered data first. What if every student had a profile that was standards-based and allowed three pieces of evidence to be collected on each standard (paper/project/portfolios, evidence from embedded assessments, etc.)? What if that was coupled with validation of proficiency levels through summative assessments that are more modular in nature? (Summative assessments could also be on demand or, as Tom Vander Ark suggests, with a sampling to validate the data on the ground to ensure rigor.)

This system would enhance “actionable data” toward the point of instruction and provide real-time evidence of learning to teachers. This data can be rolled up to inform new accountability. Gene Wilhoit suggests we should include systemic thinking on how accountability should look by first focusing on the data needed for instruction and personalizing learning, and then asking what data is needed at what level:

  • What does the district need to know for accountability?
  • What does the state need to know for accountability?
  • What does the federal government need to know for accountability?

All of this could be provided (for the sake of argument) in a real-time dashboard.

We need to rethink our paradigm – we must rethink summative assessment utility as “moderating assessments” for the data on the ground. And have a sampling regime using them (but in more modular format throughout the year) as audits of that data. The current accountability system is actually masking the true achievement gaps that exist. It only tests for annual determination of age/grade cohorts. Redesigned accountability could use real, actionable data to roll up the analysis.

Gene Wilhoit, Linda Pittenger and Linda Darling-Hammond are already doing a lot of work on this concept of new accountability with a few pioneering states. Their new paper is Accountability for College and Career Readiness: Developing a New Paradigm and it rethinks what starting from scratch with a system that makes sense for a student-centered, deeper learning would look like.

From iNACOL/CompetencyWorks  Here’s a link to a paper we co-authored on the topic:

A K-12 Federal Policy Framework for Competency Education: Building Capacity for Systems Change

For focusing on equity, improving access and expanding educational opportunity, this alignment around student learning would help drive continuous change in these areas:

  • Equity – blended learning utilizes the best of online learning to pinpoint student needs and gaps and personalize instruction;
  • Improved access – online learning offers access to many courses that students need to graduate on time and to be prepared for college and careers;
  • Alignment around student learning – knowing where every student is on their personalized learning plan; focusing in on student interests and multiple ways of presenting evidence on rigorous standards to ensure student success; and offering assessments that are aligned every day to the learning process rather than “once a year” litmus tests that hold no teeth for kids, would help to reorganize the system around learning and student developing competencies.

Imagine new, constructive models that support achieving mastery and are meaningful to improvements in student learning – while offering much richer data to inform true accountability.

This is the beginning of a very important conversation in the field of K-12 education around new accountability. We very much hope to engage in pushing thinking around the challenge (and promise) of ensuring every student has access to a world class education that will prepare them for success, regardless of what zip code they live in.