Accountability, California Style: Counting or Accounting?
by Michael Russell, Jennifer Higgins & Anastasia Raczek - 2004
Across the nation and at nearly all levels of our educational system, efforts to hold schools accountable for student learning dominate strategies for improving the quality of education. At both the national and state level, student testing stands at the center of educational accountability programs, such that schools are effectively held accountability for increases in student test scores. This working definition of accountability contrasts sharply with the formal definition of accountability in which those discharged with duties are expected to provide an account—that is, a description and an explanation—of their duties and conduct and to assist in determining whether said conduct was responsible. This article focuses specifically on the accountability system introduced in California in 1999 and identifies several shortcomings of test-based accountability systems. These shortcomings fall into two broad categories: unrealistic expectations established by the system and failure to identify why schools succeed or fail to meet test-based goals. Based on shortcomings identified in California, as well as limitations of test-based accountability itself, several recommendations for an improved accountability system are offered. Chief among these recommendations is that notions of accountability be expanded such that accountability becomes a two-way process in which all levels from the classroom up to the state should be asked to account for their practices and the impact those practices have on students and their learning.
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