As the Biden administration settles into the work of supporting states and communities to recover economically and socially, it is important to consider the lessons we have learned from this devastating moment in history.
This ongoing pandemic will influence so much of how we live and work for years to come, and we should seize the opportunity to reshape the pre-K to grade 12 accountability system. The system’s focus should be less about singularly holding schools accountable and more on improving the quality of instructional practice and the organizational culture of schools. Federal and state leaders should consider changing how accountability systems are designed and implemented, and most importantly, defining the primary purpose of collecting and reporting data.
Changes in Collecting & Reporting Data
Today, state school superintendents have significant concerns about the testing and accountability requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act. As of January/February 2021, millions of children have not entered a classroom for 10 months, and their total time out of school will continue to increase over the course of this winter. Given the current circumstances, the process for how states collect and report data used to measure school performance and child outcomes must include some flexibility from the federal government.
We also have should review the spectrum of data being collected to ensure that it best reflects what students need to be successful, what conditions best support their learning, and what support and guidance teachers need to create productive learning experiences.
Changes to Accountability Systems
The new administration also has an opportunity to develop a more inclusive approach to school performance measures. Improving the accountability system for teachers would help ensure that local educators are involved in the design and implementation of those systems, and that they receive the support and guidance needed to be successful in rising to meet outcome measures. For students, this is a chance to ensure that assessment tools are used to better address the unique challenges faced by specific groups of children, such as English Language Learners, children with special needs and children experiencing trauma.
Referred to as reciprocal accountability, this approach confirms that accountability systems are adaptive, iterative and focused on a culture of continuous improvement for schools and the administrations charged with holding those schools accountable. Recognizing that improvement is not a linear process and is a unique event for every school, responsibility is distributed across the education system’s stakeholders. In addition, data is used to help teachers improve their practice and identify the supports necessary to truly foster an organizational culture that is grounded in continuous improvement.
In closing, far too often, system leaders embrace and push to scale evidence-based practices that are proven impactful in ideal conditions but that fail when implemented in other settings. Ideal conditions cannot and sometimes should not be replicated in every setting. The tendency is to assume the concept is complete as it was originally conceived, rather than seeing it as something that needs to constantly evolve and adapt based on how humans use it in context of their cultural and geographic context.
Successful school refinement requires a sustained commitment to incremental, ongoing improvements that involve all stakeholders – parents, teachers, administrators and children. With these recommendations for the education system, we have an opportunity to make significant and long-lasting advancements for state education departments and school districts.