Assessment and Accountability

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The terms “assessment” and “accountability” are often used interchangeably, but they do have different meanings. “In general, when we access our own performances, it’s assessment; when others access our performance, it’s accountability,” according to Richard Frye, a planning analyst for the Office of Institutional Assessment and Testing at Western Washington University.

Facing Challenges

Parents and the political arena are outspoken supporters of both assessment and accountability as part of their demand for reform in education. A variety of commercial technology applications are available for collecting and analyzing student performance, and provide data on the effectiveness of learning strategies. Since education is the constitutional responsibility of the state, governors are also playing a lead role in efforts to revitalize the educational system. The No Child Left Behind Act requires the inclusion of all students in state assessment programs, and holds students and educators accountable for performance relative to state standards. However, a number of challenges still need to be addressed, including:

  • Federally mandated testing programs are usually based on a traditional one-test-fits-all design. Regional variations and variations outside of the average range of students are not well defined.
  • Cost is always an issue; too often demand is for quantity, not quality. Testing companies sell what the market demands, which d'es not always determine the needs of both students and teachers, and how to help individual students.
  • Teachers need to develop their own tests to meet state standards.
  • Test scores cannot be the sole determining factor in making important decisions about schools, teachers and students.

Kurt Landgraf, president and CEO of Educational Testing Service, made the following points when he spoke before the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce:

  • Commercial assessment applications are difficult to customize and don’t always meet each state’s local requirements.
  • Teachers need to link instructional material to their curriculum and their state curriculum based on state standards.
  • Professional development is needed for teachers, administrators and parents so that they understand the standards, know the curriculum and recognize why students are not meeting the standards.

The Center for Applied Research in Educational Technology (http://caret.iste.org) is supposed to monitor, revise and report on topics such as the cost benefits of using technology as an assessment tool, effectively accessing and monitoring student performance, linking assessment to instructional planning, and communicating outcomes to students and parents.

In addition, the U.S. Education Department is planning to evaluate research as part of its Web-based “What Works Clearinghouse” project (www.w-w-c.org). The Clearing-house, created in August 2002, will work on systematically evaluating resources to help educators utilize scientifically proven teaching materials. It will have two databases: one on the effectiveness of specific intervention, while the other will contain reports on approaches used in education. Each piece of research will contain an “evidence” report written by a team of researchers.

Conclusion

A variety of assessment measures are available, and standards have been established at the appropriate government level of what students should know and should be able to do. These new standards require new curriculum and material to be utilized in the classroom. Through these standards, we can effectively use assessment as a central, independent and reliable source of scientific evidence for what works in education so that institutions can be held accountable.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.

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