Survive or Thrive? Turning State Mandates into Local Results: Monrovia's Accountability System Ensures That Tests Do Not Become Ends in Themselves. Instead, Principals & Teachers Work Together on Targeted Strategies to Improve Teaching and Learning

Article excerpt

Clearly, we live in an age of educational accountability. The debate rages on over how to best measure the success of our schools locally, statewide and nationally. This debate often masks the underlying issues related to whether we are measuring student learning, school success or social and cultural attributes of our clients; whether the instruments we use to measure our progress become ends in themselves to which we bend our curriculum and instruction to raise the likelihood that we "look good" on these measures; whether we are engaged in "accounting" (collecting and reporting numbers) or "accountability" (collecting and reporting information about our students' learning, our processes and programs for the purpose of changing and improving our systems); and lastly, rarely include a discussion of how to implement testing and accountability systems in a way that results in fundamental improvements in our schools without creating such a heavy burden that in order to survive, school staff simply find ways to comply.

In the Monrovia Unified School District, we are engaged in a journey to try and figure out how to balance state mandates about accountability and testing with a local system of accountability and learning in a way that will result in an honest inquiry into practice. The purpose of this article is to share what we are doing and learning.

As the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, I was charged by my superintendent to create and implement such a system. Beginning in the summer of 2000, she and I worked to devise a series of processes and activities that our principals would be responsible for facilitating at their sites with their teachers. These activities and the data and information collected make up the core of our administrators' yearly performance assessments.

The major components of the Monrovia Unified Student Learning and Accountability System include: 1) specifying data to be used from those measures mandated and developed locally; 2) setting a process for teachers to analyze these data; 3) setting student learning performance targets (based on the analysis of data); 4) setting student engagement practices and targets; and 5) reporting and 6) engaging in a reporting dialogue with the board of education.

Specifying data to be used

As indicated above, it is difficult to implement these systems locally in part because there is so much student performance information, and the testing systems themselves are under constant revision. Nonetheless, we must use what is mandated and in California that means the STAR system.

Keeping in mind that we are developing a system that will change as the state moves from a dependence on SAT-9 to more reliance on standards tests, we chose to focus our beginning efforts on the Total Reading and Total Mathematics sections of the SAT-9 as the first data to be analyzed. In addition, we are implementing locally-developed writing (similar to the state's fourth- and seventh-grade assessments) and mathematics criterion-referenced assessments aligned with state curriculum standards.

As a district, we have also implemented the Open Court Reading (OCR) program in grades K-3, and as part of the Governor's Reading Initiative, included six-week criterion-referenced assessments. District writing and mathematics assessments are administered twice yearly. OCR assessments are given approximately every six weeks.

To summarize, our system requires principals to use SAT-9 reading and mathematics, MUSD writing and mathematics and OCR assessments. These data are collected for all students in the district with the exception of SAT-9 data for kindergarten and 12th-grade students. The Academic Performance Index and related improvement targets for each subgroup are included.

A district template has been developed that summarizes these data as averages for each grade level represented in a given school. …