Accountability for Learning: How Teachers and School Leaders can Take Charge

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“Educators have two choices”, says Douglas Reeves, author of this important guide for school-based educators. “[They] can rail against the system, hoping that standards and testing are a passing fad, or lead the way in a fundamental reformulation of educational accountability.” Reevesā latest book argues for the latter.

Accountability for Learning makes an important contribution to the school system at a time when teacher morale is at an all time low. In this book, the dreaded A-word is transformed into a constructive, teacher-friendly concept that supports meaningful leadership for learning in the classroom.

The book contains six chapters. The first four are directed specifically at teachers, the fifth offers advice for school districts, and the sixth addresses policymakers on how to construct coherent, bottom-up accountability systems. Two detailed appendices provide a model accountability system, illustrating system-wide, central office and school based indicators; a professional development plan; communications plan; and tools for developing and implementing such a system.

By resisting attempts to measure classroom methods and insisting that teaching is an art, not a science, the teaching profession has become the victim of external accountability systems based largely on test scores. The first half of this book provides a blueprint for teacher empowerment through bottom-up ownership of accountability.

Accountability for Learning encourages teachers to develop student-centred, more holistic accountability practices, focusing on the four-step process of observation, reflection, synthesis, and replication of effective teaching practices. The results, suggests Reeves, will significantly increase both teacher motivation and student achievement.

Reeves argues that the basis of this new holistic accountability is identifying, understanding, and measuring teaching practice. By associating successful student learning with specific classroom practices, teachers are able to replicate those practices at will. This sense of efficacy makes the difference between teachers who say, “We have problems, and it’s hopeless – it’s the fault of the kids and families” and those who say, “We have problems and our examination of the evidence tells us we have solutions, and here is how we will address each challenge.” Through teacher-led accountability, staffs “confront the power of their impact on student achievement every day”.

Three authentic school case studies provided in Chapter 3, demystify the complexities of assessment and accountability at the building and classroom level. They illustrate the effective strategies that ordinary staffs may use to ‘take charge of accountability for learning progress. Data walls, a data command centre, staff-generated questions that form the basis for regular team and grade-level meetings, an annual yearbook highlighting best practices, action research, bulletin boards tracking key indicators on new interventions are used to key staff conversations on what counts.

Chapter 4 unpacks some common myths around assessment and accountability and goes on to provide coaching in teacher leadership in accountability. Teachers are encouraged to regularly ask themselves: What worked? What do I notice about the relationship between a given practice and student progress? How are my practices changing? If practice X gets better results than practice Y, what am I doing about that?

The role of local school districts is also discussed in developing a more constructive decentralized accountability framework. District leaders must provide focus, master strategic planning and avoid initiative fatigue. As in the chapters addressed to teachers, this section also provides a useful case study illustrating good practice at the district level for fostering grassroots accountability to leverage progress towards district goals for achievement.

The final chapter offers guidelines for government policymakers in developing bottom-up accountability systems. These include:
♦ Measure student progress comprehensively
♦ Measure the ‘producers’ or antecedents of excellence
♦ Provide a mix of quantitative and qualitative evidence
♦ Provide data in a consistent format
♦ Place more emphasis on identifying best practices

Douglas Reeves is the director of the Centre for Performance Assessment and the author of 17 books.