Are We Accountable For The Right Things?

By: Jacki Paone Issue: Education & Workforce Development Section: Inspiration

Balancing Priorities Pits our Children’s Education Against Economic Issues

Are We Accountable Baldridge… ISO… NCLB… What do these have in common? Targets, benchmarks, success indicators, progress reports, accountability. NCLB (No Child Left Behind) was passed by Congress in 2001 and signed into law in January 2002. It included a major overhaul to the Federal ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) of 1965 school funding authorization. The major focus of NCLB was and is to “provide all children with a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education.”1

According to the U.S. Department of Education, “No Child Left Behind is based on stronger accountability for results, more freedom for states and communities, proven education methods, and more choices for parents.”2

It includes intense scrutiny of schools’ education offerings and accountability for successful outcomes for students. Accountability is aimed not only for students in the mainstream, but specifically for those students affected by physical handicaps, learning disabilities, language differences and so on. Equitable opportunity for all and accountability for success remain buzzwords of NCLB.

Most would agree that the intent of NCLB is noble and that it has focused considerable attention on providing more equitable education opportunities for children. This attention has resulted in improvements toward closing achievement gaps between white, more affluent students and their peers. At the same time, however, there have been concerns raised about NCLB. The National Education Association, for example, states that NCLB “established goals everyone supports: high standards and accountability for the learning of all children. But NCLB falls short of its goals for many reasons.”3

Many concerns are directed specifically at its accountability requirements such as meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) which uses state standardized tests in math and reading, holding schools accountable based on how many students achieve a specific point on one test in each of these two subjects.

Although there are those who believe that the concerns are based on education “whining” and educators’ unwillingness to initiate meaningful reform, most educators grapple with using data in meaningful ways. “For data-driven instruction to transform schooling – which it can – it must serve a master very different from rigid accountability formulas. It must aim to help students from all backgrounds attain an authentic 21st century education.”4

Education’s most important product, students prepared for today’s global world, is one of the greatest challenges in implementing NCLB in schools with diverse student populations. This can set up roadblocks for the system to achieve success. We must overcome these roadblocks so that in the words of Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, “success in school can serve as the foundation for success beyond school.” For all children to learn, we must utilize varied teaching techniques within varied timeframes depending on the student’s background and learning style. Accountability for success must consider the variables and provide the resources to ensure success. However, lacking widespread consensus about how NCLB’s accountability system can be improved, it is increasingly more important that educators and opinion leaders from stakeholders as diverse as our students undertake serious discussion, reach broader agreement and agree on how to adjust NCLB.

Measurement Tools Are Woefully Inadequate

Researchers across the country measure student success along with the factors that lead to success (or not). The range of methodologies is wide as researchers and educators grapple with defining specific techniques, variables and resources that affect student learning. The research studies often yield conflicting results due to methods, uncontrolled variables and/or limitations of funding resources. Longitudinal measurement studies hold promise for the strongest research conclusions and are likely to provide the best information about which reforms make a positive difference in student learning. The Data Quality Campaign ( lists ten data elements that are critical to a longitudinal data system: unique and stable statewide student identifiers connecting student data across key databases across years; student-level enrollment, demographic and program participation information; the ability to match individual students’ test records from year to year; information on untested students and why they were not tested; a teacher identifier system with the ability to match teachers to students; information on student courses completed and grades earned; information on student participation in and performance on college admissions and/or college level assessments; information on college enrollment and dropout data; the ability to match student records between the P-12 and higher education systems; and, a state data audit system assessing data quality, validity and reliability. While these should be considered the basic data requirements, only five states report having all ten elements.

Educators are encouraged to use these data tools to make data-based decisions. Considering the wide availability and variability of research, educators need training in how to effectively use the data. “…the process of translating assessment into instructional decision making is far from easy.”5

However, schools that lack the financial resources to purchase the most basic school supplies are hard-pressed to spend funds to train classroom teachers in effectively using data to improve instruction.

Data About Teachers Lacks Clear Links To Student Achievement

Research has shown that the single most important factor in a student’s learning is his/her teacher. However, since there are many other factors affecting a student’s learning - family environment, living conditions, poverty etc. - teachers fear that linking student data to individual teachers will have the affect of blaming teachers for problems that have resulted from a variety of external factors. Resolving this apparent contradiction in order to improve data is a work in progress, with Colorado among the states working on solutions.

Although some 21 states report that they are able to link teacher and student data (, little data is available.

Colorado, for example, has been working for nearly three years on designing a unique teacher identifier. The issue is not the technical creation of the identifier, but how the identifier will be used to link data. Colorado legislation in 2007'6

created a Quality Teachers Commission (QTC), whose duty was to come to agreement about whether an identifier would be appropriate and if so, how. The QTC unanimously recommended in June 2008 that a pilot educator (teacher and principal) identifier be established. To satisfy the concerns about potential misuse, the QTC recommended protections:7

The teacher/principal identifier is not intended to sanction teachers or principals through decisions about salary, promotion, or evaluation. However, the commission feels strongly about ensuring that these protections are enacted quickly to meet the growing demand for data-driven efforts. The commission suggested:

Data linked with a unique educator identifier should be used to support required reports, research, and support systems aimed at improving teacher and/or principal quality.

Because school districts retain control of hiring, dismissal, salary decisions, and evaluation of individual educators, the state must not use data linked with an educator ID to penalize an individual teacher, principal, or group of educators.

The state must not use the data linked with a teacher and principal identifier to penalize a district.

The state must not use the data linked with a teacher and principal identifier to penalize a teacher or principal preparation program.

When examining complex issues, such as teacher quality, principal quality, and school improvement, multiple data points should be used and the context should be provided. Quick assumptions should be avoided.

To avoid identification of individual teachers, public reporting of data should be restricted when the reporting size is small. Colorado Department of Education (CDE) should consider existing caps as a guide to protect individuals.

Individuals’ personal contact information should not be shared externally.

Existing CDE committees, such as the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and the Education Data Advisory Committee (EDAC), should recommend to the State Board of Education who can access various levels of specified data in the tiered system.

As the QTC crafts a bill for introduction in the 2009 legislative session to create the educator identifier pilot, its progress will be closely watched by educators and policymakers alike. Reporting Requirements of NCLB Take Significant Time and Resources From Local School Districts and State

Departments of Education

Ensuring accountability with the requirements of NCLB has resulted in extensive reporting by state agencies. They, in turn, require reports from school districts about student achievement for individual students specifically within certain categories. Such reports are necessary in an accountability system. One of the reasons for high cost and inefficiencies is inadequate technology. Some states have spent millions of dollars to upgrade data systems which may not be compatible with those in local school districts. A strong data infrastructure is critical to ensure effective and efficient reporting of results. However, states let alone school districts, can ill afford spending more dollars in today’s tight economy.

Although some federal funding has been available to support pilot states’ efforts at improving technology, the amount is far from adequate.

States set varied standards such as the requirements for the Federal “highly qualified” teachers

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) requires that each and every student be taught by a highly qualified teacher. The DOE requires that to be highly qualified a teacher must hold at least a bachelor’s degree, have full state certification or licensure, and have demonstrated competence in their subject areas.8

Each state, however, develops its own certification/licensure requirements as well as how it will measure demonstrated competence in a subject area. Therefore, a highly qualified teacher in New York,9

for example, could be much different from a highly qualified teacher in Utah.10

Even more important is the fact that most educators acknowledge that being a highly qualified teacher is not necessarily the same as being an effective teacher. “In the recent Aspen Institute report, Beyond NCLB (Commission on No Child Left Behind, 2007), 11

written to guide the re-authorization of NCLB, the Commission defines ‘effective’ in terms of a teacher’s ability to improve student achievement as measured on standardized tests. The Commission draws upon studies using value-added methodologies to argue that in the NCLB reauthorization, emphasis should be placed on developing data systems that allow states and districts to identify those effective teachers who contribute to children’s achievement growth each year. This is a shift from a focus on qualifications to describe teacher quality to a focus on achievement outcomes.”12

Our Priorities

With the unarguable need to compete globally in an ever-expanding market, one of the nation’s current education priorities is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education; the focus is on teaching the STEM skills to more students and recruiting these students into the STEM careers. In order to succeed at this outstanding vision, however, we also need to attract and retain qualified individuals to teach STEM skills. Will we be able to maintain teachers with STEM skills when their starting salary is just over $30,000 compared to starting as an engineer with a salary upwards of $50,000?13

Sadly, we are rapidly stealing time and the potential for success from the very students we hope to assist. While policymakers, educators, researchers and funders argue about the how and why, our children continue to funnel through the system with too many of them lacking the opportunity to a quality education.

Public education HAS come a long way. There ARE numerous examples of success. Some successes are in charter schools or other innovative school structures; some successes are within schools where leaders have taken the challenge head on; however, many lack the resources to attempt or continue toward such success.

Why is it that we continue to spend our dollars on sports teams, business buyouts and crude oil while schools across the country lack resources, proper classrooms and most importantly, consistent teacher quality? Why is it that non-profits focused on the state and local policies with the greatest potential to impact reform, struggle with sustainability? Why is it that funders put their dollars into glitzy one-shot attempts and consumers buy season tickets to baseball games when children lack adequate facilities, quality teachers, and a chance at success?

Until our nation focuses its priorities with education at the top of the list, we will not succeed in meeting the challenges of a global economy and in recruiting top companies to our soils.

Jacki Paone is the Executive Director of the Alliance for Quality Teaching, Denver CO. Her career and volunteer experience, grounded in a belief in equity of education, health and lifestyle for all children included founding a Western New York non-profit aiding Vietnamese war orphans.

Prior to moving to Denver, she was Executive Director of the Erie County (NY) Association of School Boards, a position she held for seven years. Her duties included planning and executing school board member development activities, government relations and advocacy for public education. Her work also included collaborative activities to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and equity of the public schools in Erie County.

Mrs. Paone’s career in public education included serving as Director of Communications for the Williamsville Central School District (NY) where she developed and administered a system-wide public relations program.

As a member of the Executive Board of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA), Mrs. Paone served as president in 1993-94. She also served as president of the New York School Public Relations Association and the Western New York School Public Relations Association.