Accountability for School Quality

Judge schools by the extent to which they satisfactorily meet the needs of all pupils…” Cooperative Study of Secondary School Standards (1939)

Looking at an array of “indicators” helps avoid the pitfall, as seen by the School Standards study, of using testing as “a sole method of accreditation or for similar widespread comparison” because testing tends to make “instruction point definitely to success in examinations,” cultivates “a uniformity that is deadening to instruction,” can “thwart the initiative of instructors,” and can “destroy the flexibility and individuality of an institution.”

Excessive testing takes time away from learning.

Excessive testing takes time away from learning.

Assessing our schools has a long history of research behind it. The Cooperative Study of Secondary School Standards laid out in great detail their methodology and the tools they used to evaluate the quality of schools. They concluded there are six elements within the school that should be used to judge quality of the learning experience: 1) Curriculum, 2) Pupil activities, 3) Library, 4) Guidance, 5) Instruction, and 6) Outcomes.

Accreditation in the United States http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/1731/Accreditation-in-United-States.html

Accreditation in the United States http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/1731/Accreditation-in-United-States.html

The school improvement process that was the focus of the original study was based on:

  • Ÿwhat the characteristics of a good school are,
  • Ÿhow you evaluate schools effectiveness in relation to its objectives,
  • Ÿhow a good school becomes better, and
  • Ÿhow to stimulate schools to continue to strive to become better.

The process is nothing new and it is being taught in some public institutions. An accreditation certification program at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) Extension System is one example. If you take a moment to glance through the list of topics covered, you’ll find it includes a multitude of ways to assess quality on everything from disaggregation of student data to analyzing community profiles.

To sustain an improvement process takes knowledgeable leadership. If we were serious about improving our public schools, we would quit handing over leadership training to private non-profits like the Broad Foundation’s Leadership Academy or Marc Tucker‘s “National” Institute for School Leadership. We would set standards for leadership training that included the best practices of school improvement processes. We would put quality control back in the public realm. We have no idea what these private philanthropic endeavors are teaching, but the country’s education system certainly is suffering under their leadership especially in the large urban school districts that they have taken over (last full paragraph is telling).

So to meet students’ needs a school improvement process must begin with a “needs assessment.” Various survey tools exist. We don’t need to reinvent any wheels to move forward.

From the Federation for Community Schools

From the Federation for Community Schools

Approximately 30 years after the Cooperative Study of Secondary School Standards, Effective Schools Research began to emerge. It gives us another framework by which we can approach school improvement. The Effective Schools Correlates are:

1) The principal’s leadership and attention to the quality of instruction;

2) A pervasive and broadly understood instructional focus;

3) An orderly, safe climate conducive to teaching and learning;

4) Teacher behaviors that convey the expectation that all students are expected to obtain at least minimal mastery; and

5) The use of measures of pupil achievement as the basis for program evaluation.

Approximately 30 more years passed and we now have Robert Marzano’s indicator framework developed around the Effective Schools Correlates with a bit more of a standards-aligned (standards-referenced) twist to the indicator system. The system is arranged in “levels” but should be worked on simultaneously.

 Level 1: A Safe and Orderly Environment That Supports Cooperation and Collaboration

Level 2: An Instructional Framework That Develops and Maintains Effective Instruction in Every Classroom

Level 3: A Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum Focused on Enhancing Student Learning

Level 4: A Standards-Referenced System of Reporting Student Progress

Level 5: A Competency-Based System That Ensures Student Mastery of Content

If you glance through the system of indicators, you’ll find that many of the “assessments” are simple low-cost surveys. But keep in mind; school evaluations need to be tailored to the schools needs. No one-size –fits-all mandate will suffice. “Stakeholder” participation in planning makes success more likely.

And as we know, schools don’t improve and then just stay that way. Students, parents, teachers, and leaders come and go; things change. Schools must see improvement as a continuous process, always striving to be better.

But, we do need oversight. So another “accountability” piece, that goes by various names (Quality Review, Inspection, Success, or Support Teams), is teams of “outside” evaluators. The long-standing recommendation is that a visit every five years is sufficient. If schools are having difficulties, more frequent visits are recommended.

These review teams could be established within state’s departments of education (once leaders are trained in sufficient numbers). State inspections could encompass such things as assessment of the curriculum assuring that it is broad and engaging, appraisal of teachers’ continuing education ensuring quality and sufficient learning opportunities are being offered, evaluation of the level of parental and family engagement opportunities and communications, and that there is satisfactory evidence that the school is conscientiously working towards improving rather than just complying with paperwork.

 Summary of Accountability Measures for Ensuring School Quality include,

  • An assessment of school needs (students, teachers, partners),
  • Establishment of indicators for improvement based on the needs assessment,
  • Continuous self-assessments of schools and classrooms,
  • Monitoring of student progress,
  • Monitoring of school progress based on the school’s indicators of quality, and
  • Evaluations by a Quality Review Team every 5 years or 1-2 years if needed.

“Common sense dictates that in order for students to achieve they must have appropriate opportunities to learn.” Wendy Schwartz – Opportunity To Learn Standards 

Opportunity to Learn (OTL) Assessments are “a range of measurable indicators that covered both classroom experience and the overall school environment.”… “The National Council on Education Standards and Testing (NCEST, 1992) asserted that OTL standards are necessary to help close the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students.”

We have ignored establishing opportunity-to-learn standards but I believe they are incorporated into a school accountability system such as what is described here.

Currently, there are multiple versions of these ideas. I have read at least eight “new” plans from eight different organizations. Terminology varies but the major ideas remain the same. What we do know with certainty is….

“…accountability should be geared towards continuous improvement.”

—Joseph Bishop, Opportunity to Learn Campaign

What Are We Missing?

Leaders, Civil Rights Leaders, People, what are we missing?

And how is it we don’t seem to understand that “narrowing the curriculum” translates to lost opportunities to learn — particularly in impoverished communities? Those communities were the ones previously targeted by the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA/NCLB). Those schools were the reason ESEA exists.

equal-right-quotes-5Federal education law did not come into existence to dictate testing.

So here are some facts that seem to be missing in the discussion of yearly standardized testing as it applies to reauthorization of No Child Left Behind/now the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESEA):

The original ESEA set this goal.

Quality and Opportunity were the twin goals desired in federal education law as stated by President Kennedy.

Quality and Opportunity were the twin goals first stated by President Kennedy.

The only “accountability” and testing associated with this law was this:

"Appropriate" was to be determined by focusing on what children need to learn.

“Appropriate” was to be determined by focusing on what children need to learn and staying focused on the “educationally-deprived” children.

Measurements of progress were used to assess effectiveness of federal dollars in meeting children’s learning needs. As one citizen recently expressed to me, these were state and locally created “measures.” …But back to the past,… in 1966, the first review of ESEA was released.

This council was required by the 1965 ESEA to advise the president and congress.

Yearly, the council was required to advise the president and congress. This council  focused strictly on the children the law intended to help and advised we do the same.

This assessment of the problem led their thoughts on standardized testing.

This assessment of the problem, by this council, highlighted their thoughts on standardized testing.

This council understood that these children were coming to school already “disadvantaged” when it came to standardized test scores. Out-of-school factors played a role.

In other words, commercially-designed standardized "achievement" tests point at opportunity to learn gaps.

In other words, commercially designed standardized “achievement” tests point at opportunity-to-learn gaps.

A point made in The Coleman Report that is really what makes the difference between great schools and mediocre.

Important to think about: the report was really titled “Equality of Educational Opportunity.”

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Variation within a school is greater than between schools. We have to think about children from low-income families as children with fewer opportunities – unless their community provides them more.

Also in 1966, the Coleman Report said that family background and socioeconomic factors play a role in “achievement” – but it was interpreted to mean that “school resources” don’t matter.

However…….a point made in The Coleman Report that really is what makes the difference between great schools and mediocre ones is the concentration of poverty….if not properly addressed.

Fortunately, the 1965 ESEA was designed taking into consideration both in-school and out-of-school factors and later research by James S. Coleman would prove that an out-of-school safety net of opportunities (social capital) was a factor behind the success of the private Catholic schools that he studied. But as the story of testing goes….

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Analysis and intervention must be focused on student learning – in the school where variability between students is largest.

Convinced that all students can learn, Ronald Edmonds looked at schools that began seeing student success regardless of their high-poverty rates. He not only analyzed the common factors in these “effective” schools, he looked at what they did to improve.

Edmonds did not shy away from standards and testing but his bigger focus was on instruction and learning….in the school.

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Good-quality teacher-created tests focused on learning objectives in line with clear, locally acceptable standards should be considered as the alternative to yearly commercially-created standardized tests. Then, what gets taught gets tested.

So in light of the fact that the role of the federal government is to ensure our civil (citizens) right to equal access, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is one appropriate tool for assessing national or state achievement/opportunity gaps. We should not change something that has worked well as one indicator of our nations slow but steady progress.

Today, we must consider looking at the real core of the problem that national civil rights groups are having with the idea of giving up yearly standardized testing. We need to consider: when the biggest variable is within a school, when success is really defined by individual student success, student success can only be measured at the school level. The “accountability” measure must be determined by parents, teachers, and communities. Monitored by NAEP to assess inequality, yes. But any further national testing for this reason is not justified and is an overstep.

In federal program evaluations to satisfy “accountability” for dollars, the same data (measures, assessments, indicators) that are used to identify a problem should be used to determine whether the problem has been reduced or eliminated.

And one last lesson from the past that we may have missed, from No Child Left Behind, was that yearly standardized testing narrowed the curriculum to what was tested – it did harm – and instructional time was lost because of test preparation. Limiting learning opportunities in schools is most devastating for children whose parents can’t make up for those lost opportunities. I know this because I saw it with my own eyes.

I hope in the weeks to come that a set of meaningful indicators of educational quality and opportunity come out of the legislative debate on ESEA reauthorization. Yearly standardized achievement tests for all students should not be among them. 

Education Counts. Let's measure what matters.

Education Counts. Let’s measure what matters.

#TruthBeTold The civil rights movement marched on a different path to obtain equality in educational opportunity.

Federal oversight of access is one thing, doing what is right for children is another.

Federal oversight of access is one thing, doing what is right for children is another.

Congressional representatives, particularly those charged with re-writing NCLB, do you understand?

(UPDATE: they did not demonstrate understanding when they changed NCLB to ESSA – the Every Student Succeeds Act)

We are at a crossroads where the standards movement that has dominated education policy since the 80’s intersects with the almost forgotten educational history of the 60’s and 70’s that saw the natural progress of effective schools take root because the influential in education policy THEN understood poverty and saw a way that education law could remedy a longstanding injustice – unequal access to quality education.

It is a problem we can solve.

Again.

Again. YES, EVERY 5 YEARS WE NEED TO REAUTHORIZE ESEA.

What Teachers Need

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) understands that the cultural setting or environment where “accountability” is expected to take place (schools and classrooms) must be a place based on “mutual trust and support.” They laid down “the conditions under which accountability needs to take place.” Here is a summary of their NSTA Accountability declaration. (Best copy available. “Step 1” is wrong because the premise that setting standards and testing for them increases student achievement has been proven not to be true.)

Teachers must FIRST be given:

  • The appropriate resources,
  • Access to quality educational opportunities,
  • The time necessary to develop skills,
  • The opportunity to participate in development of accountability measures,
  • Information about the plan and timeline for compliance,
  • And the opportunity to address accountability issues within a local network.

Let me use Idaho as an example. Voters – the People – rejected a “pay-for-performance” law. In the process, the Idaho legislature ordered a study looking at issues that affect our Idaho teachers and schools.  When they looked at teacher preparation (summary, pgs. ix-x), three requests for improvement stood out — all having to do with teacher’s opportunities to learn and resources, some of the same things the students need.

We don’t have to look far for solutions.

http://pdkintl.org/noindex/PDKGallupPoll_Oct2014.pdf

http://pdkintl.org/noindex/PDKGallupPoll_Oct2014.pdf

But Idaho ignored their own research to continue on the path of standards, testing, and teacher accountability tied to student outcomes (standards-“based” education, outcome-based “reform”). Our whole nation does not have to make that same mistake.

We have an instrument for improvement – federal education law – that was called No Child Left Behind (ESEA). It became the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015 without fixing what was wrong with NCLB.  What must be known is that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was not intended to be an accountability law. It was to strengthen and improve the education of all those involved with educating children.

Better “public” education will make a better public school system. But before we go putting teacher preparation on center stage, let’s be fair. We need “opportunity to learn” indicators for teacher preparation and continuing education in place FIRST. Measurements matter, right?

Repeatedly, parents have voiced their support for their own child’s teachers and they trust them. Will lawmakers continue to ignore the People’s voice?

PDK/Gallup Poll

PDK/Gallup Poll

 

What Parents Desire

What parents desire for their children’s schools has been largely ignored in the education policy debate for decades. So was this recent article.

Laurie Levy’s community differs from my own (hers more affluent while mine is poverty-stricken) but our desires, as parents, seem almost universal. She wrote her article based on what other parents had written in a response to two questions: What conditions promote learning? And, what is an optimal learning environment? (Italics and “bolding” is mine.)

  1. Make space and time for kids to pursue individual, passion-based learning projects.
  2. Incorporate much more movement throughout the day, especially in winter.
  3. Make history and literacy assignments culturally relevant.
  4. Ensure that kids have enough time to eat lunch every day. The break for lunch and recess should be a minimum of an hour per day.
  5. Focus on building community, both within classrooms and within the whole school.
  6. Provide opportunities to drink water during the day. Some teachers still don’t let kids get water, which obviously makes learning hard. (OMG on that one!)
  7. Set up “quiet corners” or areas where kids can go when they need a break.
  8. Make classrooms well-organized, so kids feel comfortable and safe. It’s time to de-clutter some spaces.
  9. Consider what we are forcing our children to endure in order to cram them full of testable content to satisfy the insatiable maw of the “education” industry. The kids need more art, more recess, less testing, and less lecturing.
  10. Target and celebrate learning for all types of learners. Maybe pieces of the current curriculum don’t work well for some learners (e.g. the language heaviness of Everyday Math).
  11. Have more free time where kids can just be kids and run around…a calm, stress free environment where learning comes naturally.
  12. Remember what the “square-peg child” needs to learn: more child-driven, open-ended time and spaces; quiet spots to take a break from the intensity of being with other kids all day long; more hands-on materials and activities.
  13. Put away the standardized testing, except in the most minor way, until middle school. If it has to be done, don’t put so much time into preparing for it.
  14. [Consolidated and paraphrased by me] Developmentally appropriate practice/methods (meaning the material keeps in mind the capacity of children’s working memory at different ages i.e. more concrete learning and explanations for younger learners, moving gradually toward abstract concepts and the ability to reflect on one’s own thinking as they approach middle school) where learning is broken into reasonable time segments with frequent breaks to improve attention throughout the day to better facilitate long-term memory.
  15. [Consolidated and paraphrased by me] Classrooms are created by teachers that are educated, supported, and coached in classroom management best practices that create a warm supportive, safe, secure, community environment where students are given attainable tasks based on student interest, learning style, and strengths to make learning engaging, meaningful, and naturally motivate students to succeed. They create a place where success is a model to be emulated and assessments are what teachers use to measure if students understand and then instruction is adjusted accordingly.

This was Ms. Levy’s summary of what parents want:

  • less time spent on teaching to standardized tests and fewer of those tests,
  • learning environments that actually are conducive to learning,
  • their kids to be viewed as unique individuals with differing needs and to see their learning styles supported and respected,
  • learning environments to promote physical and mental health, with sufficient breaks for play and exercise,
  • their children to feel less stress and anxiety about school,
  • their kids to love learning and have the tools to go wherever their curiosity takes them.

All in all, my take is that parents seem to be saying that they want assurance (accountability) for a standard of educational practices that will provide high-quality learning opportunities in an environment that fosters development of their child’s talents and allows them to explore their interests.

If there is anything that we should have learned from the failure of standards-based reforms – and the No Child Left Behind law – it is that high quality learning experiences are much more important than “meeting” any set of standards we have ever developed. We can have standards-referenced curricula without the detrimental unintended consequences of our current standards-based federal accountability scheme.

Repeatedly we hear said that parents are important but education policies do not reflect that fact. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) parental piece was without substance. (Update 8/26/18: NCLB’s replacement – ESSA – is proving to be worse than NCLB.)

Parents matter.

Parents matter.

Federal education law continues to ignore parental involvement as a reform.…So it’s up to us to focus on giving all children the best opportunities to learn. Let’s give the parental voice the respect it deserves and quit putting policies in place that create stress in families. Respect the family unit. Respect the child.

Parents, do your jobs well and expect the same from all those involved in your child’s education – including policy-makers.

What parents might not realize is that what they desire can be collectively seen as quality in the child’s classroom experiences and school environment. Those are elements of the “opportunity to learn” standards. There are indicators for judging their quality and availability!.….That’s what parents want from an accountability mechanism.….Time to start making that demand?Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 4.57.47 PM