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Where Accountability Lies…

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I consider feedback to be a gift! When I am out in the community and others learn I am an educator, I have grown accustomed to receiving all of their suggestions as to how educators can improve schools. As much as I appreciate the interest and the willingness to share, there are some great gaps that need to be closed when society considers where the accountability for student learning lies.

When I go to the doctor, I respect and trust that they are trained and equipped to help me with my needs. I provide the doctor with my symptoms. The doctor then questions for greater detail and uses the tools at their disposal to make an assessment. As the findings are confirmed, a diagnosis is provided and medications are prescribed. With the information I provided to the doctor and the doctors expertise; we work together to “fix” what is ailing me.

When the doctor recognizes that I am sick and identifies my needs, expertise is put into practice in order to make me well. The doctor knows that I am holding them accountable for my well being. The same is true for what we do every day as educators. When we realize students have not learned; we put our expertise into practice to help students attain the knowledge they need. Often times, this results in practices beyond the school day and beyond school hours because there are many non-educational societal factors that impede student learning prior to students coming to school each day. That’s where accountability lies. Current accountability models do not consider all the factors of student learning.

Accountability models are premised on the notion that standardized numerical outcomes are indicative of the success and health of our students, schools and quality of instruction. This may be true; but the unproductive ways in which these measures are discussed and used within our society will not improve outcomes for students. In order to improve student outcomes; we as a society must improve student inputs such as health, quality of life, access, opportunity and the list goes on; in addition to the continuous improvement of schools and schooling. Educators are accountable for student learning; however with all of the factors that impact student abilities to learn, educators are not the only stakeholders sharing in the responsibility of optimizing learning opportunities for students.

Accountability models across the country allow stakeholders to place blame on each other instead of accepting responsibility for educating students within their respective roles. Policy places the responsibility on educators. Educators place blame on unrealistic policy expectations. Parents blame educators for not caring. Educators blame parents for not supporting the educational system. Employers blame educators for the lack of skilled workers. Communities blame parents and schools for the lack of vitality. The blame game goes on and on and students are lost in the shuffle.

The role of the educational system is to improve the communities it serves. As stakeholders, our roles are as follows:

  • Parents/families are the first teachers of our students. Students experience greater academic success in homes where they are engaged in academic discussion and expectations for academic achievement are set. What students’ value when they come to school is very much aligned to what they learn at home. The home has a responsibility to teach children to be engaged, ethical and productive members of society. “The family is the basic institution through which children learn who they are, where they fit into society, and what kinds of futures they are likely to experience…the home environment may influence the extent of persistence and achievement of an individual in any particular endeavor…” (Stewart, 2007, p. 20). There must be a desire for learning, education, self-improvement and social responsibility taught in the home that is supported through engagement in the educational system.
  • Schools are where the vision of a greater society meets future leaders tasked with carrying out the vision. School factors that affect student outcomes are organizational structures, climate, policies and procedures, academic organization and teachers (Heck, 2008, p. 229; Johnson, 2009). All students come to school with varying backgrounds and experiences. The educational institution is where differences are nurtured, learning needs are met, and students are educated in preparation for participation in the larger society. Through engagement in the educational process, every child should gain access to the opportunities that will equip them for success in life.
  • Communities are essential providers of supplemental resources. Education occurs as a result of student interaction with curriculums and relevant experiences. Often parents and schools are not equipped to provide optimal resources to teach the curriculum and provide necessary experiences. “Family SES [Socio-economic Status], which will largely determine the location of the child’s neighborhood and school, not only directly provides home resources but also indirectly provides “social capital,” that is, supportive relationships among structural forces and individuals (i.e., parents-school collaborations)” (Sirin, 2005, p. 420). School socio-economic status can influence such school factors as instructional arrangements, materials, teacher experience, teacher-student ratios and the quality of instruction (Sirin, 2005). Relationships with community entities, industries, employers, support students access to the content and the experiences that are needed for their success.
  • Policy Makers are accredited for having a larger scope regarding the condition of society and the necessities of its forward movement. If students are not educated, society will suffer. Everything that happens in our society; happens in our schools. “Historically, policymakers have made strides to impact students’ achievement through social reform. “Current policies… are holding the educational system accountable for student outcomes. Research indicates that there needs to be a married reform effort between the two: the social and educational aspects … to get the greatest impact for our students” (Garrett, 2012, p. 68). Practices and policies that make children whole and the future of society better are a result of collaboration amongst parents, schools, communities and policy makers.

Measuring the impact of education solely on standardized assessments implies that the business of educating children is black and white. It is not; there are many components that are required to educate the whole child. Children are not educated until they are whole! Rather than place the blame, we must realize that accountability lies with everyone who has a role in meeting students needs in order to ensure that they come to school prepared to learn and equipped to learn. Every stakeholder is accountable for making sure we educate our children whole.

What are your thoughts regarding where accountability lies?

References:

Garrett, N.C (2012). A study of the perceptions of school system personnel of the academic achievement gap and how their perceptions influence their educational practices (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/resolver/1840.16/7913.

Heck, R. (2008). Teacher effectiveness and student achievement. Journal of Educational Administration, 47(2), 227-249.

Johnson, C. (2009, May). An examination of effective practice: Moving toward elimination of achievement gaps in science. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 20(3), 287-306.

Sirin, S. (2005, Fall). Socioeconomic status and academic achievement: A meta-analytic review of research. Review of Educational Research, 75(3), 417-453.

Stewart, E. B. (2007, December/ 2008, January). Individual and school structural effects on African American high school students’ academic achievement. The High School Journal, 91(2), 16-34.

The 5 C’s of Accountability for Continuous Improvement

Small Continuous Improvement

At the onset of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, I was in graduate school. One of my colleagues came to class excited about the discussions around the legislation and proceeded to proclaim to the class how the legislation would change the way we educate children, “Now educators have to pay attention to all students!” As the only minority in the room, I looked at my classmate and replied, “Why single students out if we are not going to do anything different?”

NCLB ushered urgency toward accountability hinged on improving student performance on standardized assessment without a plan to help students who were not being successful. The academic achievement gap was implied in such educational capstones as 1966’s, Equality of Educational Opportunity, otherwise known as, “The Coleman Report,” detailing the disparities in educational facilities and attainment between minorities and majority students and 1983’s, A Nation at Risk, indictment of the American education system for not adequately preparing students to be globally competitive. The reality of the academic achievement gap became measured as a result of NCLB. In the view of subgroup performance, stakeholders do not acknowledge that one student can be a member of multiple subgroups. Today, educators continue to scramble to figure out how to equalize subgroup performance; while students by virtue of their subgroup classification are being pushed in, pulled out and engaging in other counterproductive educational strategies. All the while, components to educating the whole child into responsible citizens are being lost in numbers. Accountability for continuous improvement requires that our responsibility is no longer to a number. Our responsibility is to educate the child behind the number. The test score is one of many components of accountability for continuous improvement.

The 5 C’s describe how we lead accountability for continuous improvement:

o Cognition– Knowledge of what students have learned is critical. Measuring student learning should not be dependent solely on summative standardized assessments. Student learning is best measured in an ongoing systematic way that allows educators to correct learning errors in a timely manner, increasing students’ opportunities for success.

o Consciousness (wrapped in Care)– It is important for educators to know students beyond their assessment results. Educators, parents and all stakeholders must understand and prepare for the factors that hinder students from learning, i.e. social environments, poverty, etc. It is not that students of different backgrounds cannot learn; their circumstances require varying approaches. As a principal, I saw first hand how hungry students did not focus, especially in early grades when they cannot adequately express themselves. I saw how students with medical needs, were preoccupied with pain, to write sentences upon request. I learned how families in constant transition due to homelessness, work related issues and neighborhood challenges could not ensure students were in their seats everyday without assistance.

o Commitment– Beyond subgroups of students are individual students with multiple personal learning needs. Teaching and learning does not occur in a one size fits all model. As our populations have become more diverse, so have the demands of how we address making sure that every student learns. Every stakeholder is called to be innovative and do what is necessary to ensure that all students access the content and valuable curriculum enhancing experiences

o Collaboration– The responsibility of educating all students rests with all stakeholders: educators, parents, communities, churches, employers, policy makers and anyone that has interest in the future of society. Our nation operates on the outcomes of an educational system designed to improve the communities in which we live and develop. The current accountability model allows stakeholders to place blame on others resulting in isolated views of outcomes and uninformed decision-making on the parts of those not engaged at the foundation of student learning. Students are most successful when stakeholders work together and educate the whole child.

o Correction– While deflecting blame, we all must realize that we each have a role in educating students and be amenable to receiving feedback regarding the needs of our changing world. Test scores cannot be the only reason we change our practice, policies, etc. The health and well being of students should inform our practice and policies.

Collectively, we are accountable for using test scores, among other measures, to determine what is best for students. Simply put, accountability for continuous improvement is a result of every stakeholder doing the work to ensure students access the curriculum and succeed in class and life. I welcome your thoughts on how to lead accountability for continuous improvement.

Accountability: What’s Your View?

CloudsThe plane jerked prior to its ascension, I knew at that time, I would see Raleigh, NC differently than I typically do. As a native of Raleigh, I consider myself better than proficient in navigating the city. Whatever the mission, I can find the closest or most efficient route through or around the city and…MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! However, from the window of an ascending plane, I no longer recognize the city. I see highways, buildings, cars and trees but I can no longer decipher which hotel is which, which highway is which, which neighborhood is which or any other landmark I frequently use in my travels. I know when I initially look out the airplane window, I am in Raleigh; when the plane takes off, a few minutes later, and I am not sure where I am exactly.

The further the plane ascends into the heavens; the less I know about where I am. In this age of accountability, many educators probably feel just as lost as I do when trying to decipher what I think I know from the window of an airplane. In other professions, accountability is about systems, processes, checks, balances and making sure things are done in the appropriate manner for the intended outcome. In our profession, we have come to know accountability as testing and test scores, the intended outcome being that students achieve at optimal levels. The educational conversation regarding accountability is completely different from the accountability that drives operations and success for other organizations. The intended outcome should not be the test score; the score is the tool to help arrive at the outcome. The intended outcome is that students are equipped to achieve in the classroom and in their lives.

One of my accountability mentors shares frequently, “Behind every number is a child.” In the classroom, we are in our neighborhoods, traveling and navigating the streets we know. As a classroom teacher, I did not worry about scores. I knew if I walked into my classroom, and did what was best for my students, the score would come. I analyzed data; every assessment I created and every formative the district mandated. All of this told me what I needed to do for my students:

  • Did I miss teaching some foundational skills to “Susie?” or
  • Do I need to modify assignments for “Johnny?” or
  • What’s going on with “Danny,” because this is not his usual performance?

The data I used was not personal regarding the quality of my teaching; it was personal regarding the needs of my students. It was how I used the numbers that impacted student achievement.

When traveling by plane, the buckle of the wheels lifting and jolt of the plane as the fuel reaches the engine lets you know you are on your way to your destination; however the view from a few thousand feet is different from on the ground. You aren’t navigating your own neighborhood, but you still know you are in the city. In the city there is still hope that you can recognize something and operate in a sense of familiarity with regard to arriving at your destination. In the principalship, you know students. You may not know all of them by their number, but you know them by their cohort, their targets for success and you carry that at the forefront of everything you do. You push students and teachers towards this target; providing teachers the support(s) needed and students access to opportunities. As a principal and a district level curriculum specialist, I analyzed data. It was personal, in the sense of what does this group of students need and what do I need to do or provide to equip principals and teachers to provide it. Data drove instructional techniques, professional development, scheduling, teacher placement and additional opportunities for students and teachers.

When you are traveling by plane, and searching for familiarity, once you reach the clouds there is nothing you can do but sit back in your seat, trust the flight plans, and trust the pilot(s) to get you to your destination. While you know there is a plan that keeps you steadily in the air, you do not know what all is happening up under the mask of clouds or even in the cockpit. You may think and map out what you will do when you plant both feet on the ground; but until that time, it’s all about what was put into getting you in the air and staying there until you land at your destination. At the district level, accountability is similar to the bird’s eye view. Every number has a name, but they pass on fleeting sheets of paper, that transform into composite scores and specially formulated results indicative of schools’ performance. While you no longer touch every child directly, you analyze the data to develop the strategic initiatives aligning the data to the instruction and to the compilation of educational experiences that will support schools and lead to student acquisition of learning. As a district level administrator, I ensure that all accountability tools are in place, creating understanding around what these tools mean, and develop the map (for a neighborhood and city I no longer navigate) in which we follow to lead our students to their destiny.

Reality is…no matter what the view, when I step on the plane, I do so with the belief that I will get where I am going and doing so is not solely dependent on me alone. Growth in this field of education provides the understanding that accountability is not a finger pointing game; it is a manner of collaboration toward the expected outcomes. In our educator silos, we can easily operate from the lens of doing what we must do to do help students be successful; however the reality is whether teacher, principal or district administrator, we all play a significant role and have a significant view in ensuring student success.

VISION. Identifying what is expected of the students we serve. This is not only regarding their test scores, but also regarding their lives. Who are we teaching them to be? Every school has the responsibility to produce responsible, contributing and functional citizens. This is not a call for educators to be parents; this is a call for educators to be educators! Teaching the curriculum is about teaching life. Teaching life prepares students for the assessment and much further beyond. Who are we preparing our students to be?

VALUE. “Behind every number there is a child.” Giving that number value and meaning focused on the student or needs of a group of students is key in helping children succeed. Those digits provide great access to the stories of our students. • Why they learn or not? • How they learn best? • Is there something systematic that keeps students within a subgroup from accessing the curriculum?

VOLITION. I often share with educators that we are called to be diagnostic and prescriptive. Once we identify the issues using the data, what are we going to prescribe to assist students with learning the content? The choices that are made knowing the stories behind numbers should be aligned to the learners needs and to the vision.

These things cannot be done single-handedly from the streets in the neighborhood, navigating the city, from a 5,000-foot view or even from the clouds. It is a collaboration, determination and trust that we, as educators, place in each other that allows us to push students toward achievement for their future health and well being. That’s accountability!

Author Henry J. Lewis defines accountability as “Clear commitments that- in the eyes of others- have been kept.” In education, accountability is the systemic process of collaboration in which we meet learner needs and ensure their access to the curriculum. The tools and the appropriate use of the tools, clear and understood expectations and directions or plans on how to achieve outcomes are what we are accountable for.

It is not the score; it is what we do with the score that will make the difference. In this conversation about accountability in education, what “views” will you add? Please share your thoughts.

Welcome!

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Welcome to my blog! This blog is an opportunity to inspire, ignite and empower educators around critical topics in education. I hope that we can challenge each other, provide insight in each others practice and find our most valuable resource in our union as educators.

I truly believe every child can learn, it is our duty as educators to provide access to the curriculum and learning opportunities that will help every student succeed and be a contributor to the world. Therefore, in this blog I welcome you to join me in a dialogue that will help educators ensure student learning needs are met and students are equipped for everything they will face in this world. As educators, when we do our part, our students can do their best. It’s “heart work.”

I enjoy learning and growing in this profession. I look forward to sharing and learning from everyone who will bring their ideas. Everything that happens in our societies, happens in our schools. What we bring to the table are solutions within some hard conversations among everyone not just educators. We will hold ourselves accountable for preparing our future leaders to the best of our ability in these changing times. Our dedication is what drives our abilities to educate our students and motivate them to go above and beyond the imaginable.

Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I am excited about what we are doing and how it will impact the world. How about you?

Come. Let’s talk.

Quotes on Education

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“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” – Nelson Mandela

“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet” – Aristotle

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest” – Benjamin Franklin

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