Kenneth McKee

Curriculum Director/Specialist

Asheville, NC

Interests: 21st century learning,...

  • Posted 2 Years ago
  • 3.3k

Rethinking "Accountability"

Accountability is a word that carries all kinds of connotations.

  • Punishment:  “They should be held accountable for their actions.”

  • Exposure: “The accountability reports will be in the paper, you know.”

  • Blame: “As the classroom teacher, you are accountable for students’ poor performance on their final assessments.


Merriam-Webster defines accountability asobligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions.” While I believe the second part of this definition appears in the above examples, I want to shift the conversation on accountability to the idea of responsibility.

What are schools and educators responsible for?  What really matters in our schools? And is what matters the same as what gets measured?

As a literacy coach, you will hear no argument from me that measuring students’ reading progress is important - extremely important. But is a one-shot test the best measure? Is it better to measure proficiency or growth? Both? And what are the most reliable ways to measure proficiency and growth?

One key understanding of data literacy and research design is that the tool really needs to assess what it is supposed to. That sounds simple, but it’s not. The current “report card” system in my home state claims to measure student learning, but it heavily correlates failing grades with high-poverty schools. Are we measuring what the kids learned or the circumstances in which they came to us? As educators, we are responsible for teaching the students that come to us - meeting them where they are.

To whom are we responsible? Should schools only be measured by tests created in locations far removed from them? Should we involve students and parents in the accountability system? We certainly are responsible for serving them. What about our teachers? Are administrators and district leaders responsible for creating environments where they can do their best teaching? Should their experience become a part of a school's accountability?

If we consider a Whole Child approach to accountability, we must determine ways to measure if every child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. Many of these indicators illustrate the broad nature of all that educators are responsible for -- many of which are measured narrowly or not measured at all in our current accountability systems.

As an example, let’s think about measuring safety. Traditionally, schools report the number of violent incidents as the measure of school safety. Although that is a vital number to know, do violent incidents fully demonstrate the responsibility of the schools? What about programs that help students feel emotionally safe? What about actions administrators have taken to improve traffic flow, to reduce incidences of drugs on campus, or to create a welcoming environment for all students? These actions cannot be reported quantitatively.

Establishing a multimetric accountability system, reducing the reliance on standardized tests, and supporting whole child policies are all legislative priorities of ASCD that are highly interrelated. 

If you want to learn more about how you can make a difference in accountability at local, state, and federal levels, consider the following:


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