Technology Tools to Make Educational Accountability Work

By West, Gary | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), December 2000 | Go to article overview

Technology Tools to Make Educational Accountability Work


West, Gary, T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


The South Carolina Education Accountability Act of 1998 (EAA) establishes new standards for student performance. There is little doubt that such standards are needed as our state attempts to move up the ladder toward excellence.

The state has set the standards by which quality performance is to be gauged. If student performance is to be the "product" of the education industry, there must be valid and reliable quality assurance procedures throughout the "production" process. At every step in production, we must be able to show that the previous steps have been successfully completed before we can go on to the next steps.

With that in mind, let's consider what the EAA does, for whom it does it, and what those people need to assure success. In essence, we must (1) find out who is responsible for each step, (2) determine how they can be successful, and (3) make sure they have the tools they need to be successful. The tools must include a curriculum management system that provides the necessary step-by-step quality assurance measures.

Who Is Accountable?

Under the EAA, each school in the state is to be the subject of a report card that details its success in creating student performance. Student performance is the only measure of a school's success.

Immediately after a school's success -- or lack of success -- is demonstrated on the school report card, the principal of that school will be declared successful (or not). The immediate reaction in every community will be to equate the principal with the school. Student performance will become the measure of each principal's success.

Principals will be called upon to improve student performance or to move on. Those who decide to stay will immediately begin analyzing the "profit centers" in their schools -- the classrooms. Student performance is created in those classrooms. Invariably, student performance patterns will lead to an analysis of teacher performance: who creates student performance, and who does not.

The classroom teacher has the responsibility to create student performance. Despite other factors, including parental involvement and available resources, the classroom teacher ultimately will be held accountable for student performance. Like their principals, teachers will be called upon to influence student performance or to depart.

How Can Teachers Influence Student Performance?

The EAA provides the standards against which student performance will be measured. It also provides training for those who must influence student performance. However, the EAA does not provide the management strategies or tools needed for assuring success in the production process. That process requires accurate, complete, and timely information. That information can be different for each student in each subject area or course, and changes whenever a student completes a learning activity.

To influence student performance, a teacher needs to know the following: (1) what the student already knows, (2) what the student does not know, (3) what the student should know, and (4) what to do to move the student from what he or she doesn't know to what he or she should know. A teacher who does not know these four pieces of information cannot systematically influence student performance.

This is not different from the information required to be successful in manufacturing or service industries. Throughout the manufacturing process, the materials and production practices are tested again and again to be sure that they meet the specifications required to create the final product. The testing is completed and the results are at least satisfactory before going on to the next phase of production. In industry, that's called "quality assurance." It is universal.

In education, quality assurance doesn't exist. In education, we test. We teach it; we test it; we score it; we put it in the grade book. Then, it's on to the next lesson or grade level, regardless of the results. …

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