Technology Tools to Make Educational Accountability Work


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


The state has set the standards by which quality performanceis to be gauged. If student performance is to be the “product” of the educationindustry, there must be valid and reliable quality assurance proceduresthroughout the “production” process. At every step in production, we must beable to show that the previous steps have been successfully completed before wecan go on to the next steps.


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


Who Is Accountable?

Under the EAA, each school in the state is to be the subjectof 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 bedeclared successful (or not). The immediate reaction in every community will beto equate the principal with the school. Student performance will become themeasure of each principal’s success.


Principals will be called upon to improve studentperformance or to move on. Those who decide to stay will immediately beginanalyzing the “profit centers” in their schools — the classrooms. Studentperformance is created in those classrooms. Invariably, student performancepatterns will lead to an analysis of teacher performance: who creates studentperformance, and who d'es not.


The classroom teacher has the responsibility to createstudent performance. Despite other factors, including parental involvement andavailable resources, the classroom teacher ultimately will be held accountablefor student performance. Like their principals, teachers will be called upon toinfluence student performance or to depart.


How Can Teachers Influence Student Performance?

The EAA provides the standards against which studentperformance will be measured. It also provides training for those who mustinfluence student performance. However, the EAA d'es not provide the managementstrategies or tools needed for assuring success in the production process. Thatprocess requires accurate, complete, and timely information. That informationcan be different for each student in each subject area or course, and changeswhenever a student completes a learning activity.


To influence student performance, a teacher needs to knowthe following: (1) what the student already knows, (2) what the student d'esnot know, (3) what the student should know, and (4) what to do to move thestudent from what he or she d'esn’t know to what he or she should know. Ateacher who d'es not know these four pieces of information cannot systematicallyinfluence student performance.


This is not different from the information required to besuccessful in manufacturing or service industries. Throughout the manufacturingprocess, the materials and production practices are tested again and again tobe sure that they meet the specifications required to create the final product.The testing is completed and the results are at least satisfactory before goingon to the next phase of production. In industry, that’s called “qualityassurance.” It is universal.


In education, quality assurance d'esn’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. Wetend to use those tests to end an instructional activity rather than to startthe next activity. We use the results to document success — or lack of it — inthe prior process rather than documenting our success in preparing the productfor the next process. We send both the successful and the unsuccessful on tothe next phase of production.


It’s important to note here that “successful” and“unsuccessful” do not refer to children. We make the mistake of makingemotional rather than rational decisions when we equate children with our “product.”Children are not the products of the education industry. Student performance isthat product. We must create a systematic process for ensuring successfulstudent performance at all points along the production continuum.


If we are to succeed at creating student performance, ourteachers must use valid and reliable quality assurance procedures. Beforestarting any learning activity, a teacher should have assessed, in somefashion, what each child knows, d'esn’t know, and should know. The learning activityshould be designed to move the student from some known point to another knownpoint. And only the students who are assessed with similar needs should beinvolved in that activity. Other students with different needs should beinvolved in other activities. If students are involved in activities they don’tneed, the teacher is not systematicallydetermining student performance.


After an activity is completed, it is essential that eachstudent’s performance be assessed again. Some may have progressed more thanothers. It is not reasonable to assume that every student made the sameprogress, for even one such activity. This is part of quality assurance. Test,adjust, and test again. Adjust again. Test again. Each time, the testdetermines what is to be done next. And sometimes, “next” means going back anddoing it again.


This is what teachers must do if they are to be successfulin influencing student performance. The problem is that we have not providedour teachers with the tools they require to gather and analyze the informationthey need. As a result, we may be unable to hold those teachers accountable forinfluencing student performance.


What Do Teachers Need In Order to Be Successful?

One of the most pervasive myths of education is that we testtoo much. The reality is that (1) we test too few of the important things along the way; (2) we use the results tomeasure things already done rather than things that still need to be done; (3)our one quality assurance test is given only after we’ve finished production;and, (4) we don’t have the tools orresources to do it any other way.


We know we must change the way we do the first three. Wecannot be successful unless we can give our teachers the appropriate tools andresources to empower them to make those changes.


Educational accountability requires that teachers createstudent performance. To be successful, they must have real-time data from whichthey can make decisions about the students with whom they work. Without suchdata, educators will continue to base important decisions on year-old testscores and decades-old myths. Without day-to-day data and the resources to acton that data, teachers cannot be expected to succeed. No business or industrycan succeed without such data and without such resources.


The information needs of teachers have changed dramaticallyas a result of the EAA. No longer can teachers afford to wait until the end ofthe year to see if their efforts to create student performance have beensuccessful. No longer can they assume they’re creating successful studentperformance, only to find out that it just d'esn’t show up in the end-of-yearachievement testing. No longer can they permit one measurement to define theirlevel of success over the course of a whole school year.


Teachers must have information throughout the productionprocess. That information must be used to make critical decisions about what todo next with each child. That information must be used to systematically createstudent performance. There’s too much of that information to manage, unless wechange the way we do our business — and unless we use technology to help.


What Are the Tools That Teachers Need to Assure Success?

Technology is the only tool we have to help us manage thevolume of information we need to be successful. The EAA creates an absoluteneed for a new set of tools for teachers. What should that tool set include?


Everyone understands that teachers must have computers intheir classrooms. Those computers can provide access to knowledge and information.Under the EAA, those computers become doubly important because they provideaccess to the information tool set that teachers must have.


The tool set needed by teachers is generically known inSouth Carolina as a “curriculum management system,” or CMS. CMS contains toolsfor specific jobs related to accountability and the creation of studentperformance. The following includes a brief description of the essential tools:


· Database of Performance Standards in EachContent Area (State, District, School): This database should contain all ofthe performance standards defined in the State and local accountabilitypolicies. These should be coded for easy correlation to other accountabilityfactors.


· Database of Goals and Objectives Correlatedto Performance Standards in Each Area (District, School): This databaseshould contain all of the goals and objectives defined in local plans toaddress the State and local performance standards. These should be coded foreasy correlation to the performance standards and to other performance factors.


· Databaseof Resources for Use in Instruction (District, School, Other): Thisdatabase should contain lists and descriptions of locally available resourcesfor addressing the local goals and objectives. These resources should includematerials, equipment, persons, Web sites, and others. These should be coded tothe goals and objectives as well as the activities in which the resources canbe used.


· Database of Activities for Each Goal andObjective, Including Resources Available (District, School, Other): Thisdatabase should include teacher-made and other activities designed to delivercontent and learning to the student. Activities should be coded for easycorrelation to local goals and objectives and to the broader performancestandards. These activities can be thematic units (instructional modules) orparts of thematic units, coded appropriately.

· Databaseof Diagnostic Assessment Items Correlated to Goals, Objectives, and PerformanceStandards (State, District, School, Other): This database includes informalassessment items designed for assessing the current status of studentknowledge. This item bank can be used to create daily assessments to identifywhat a student knows and d'es not know. Diagnostic assessments are not part ofgrading or measuring student achievement; rather, diagnostic assessments areused to guide the teacher(s).

· Databaseof Performance Assessment Items Correlated to Goals, Objectives, andPerformance Standards (District, School, Other): This database includesitems designed for assessing student achievement. These items become part ofa database from which teachers and administrators can select items to measureachievement. These items can be compiled into assessment instruments (tests)for the purpose of grading and/or reporting student performance.

· Databaseof Performance Assessment Instruments Correlated to Goals, Objectives, andPerformance Standards (State, District, School, Other): This database cancontain pre-built assessment instruments (tests) for assessing studentperformance at specific points along the instructional continuum. For example,end-of-term, end-of-year, and end-of-course tests can be created from the itemdatabase and stored for use with all students in a particular grade level orcourse.

· Database of Standardized Achievement TestResults (District and School): This database should contain year-to-yearresults from standardized achievement test results. The results should belinked through student ID numbers to permit longitudinal analysis. Thisdatabase can be used to identify programmatic needs, as well as show patternsin student achievement and performance.

· StudentDatabase Containing Results of Daily and Other Periodic Assessments for EachStudent (District, School, Other): This database stores results fromdiagnostic and other assessments. The data are current and can be used by theteacher to engage students in activities related specifically to performancestandards. This database is the most important daily source of information forteachers, because it helps pinpoint what a student knows and d'es not know.Using that information and information about what the student should know, theteacher is able to plan activities that have specific purposes.

· GradeRecording and Reporting System(Traditional Gradebook): The gradebook tool permits the teacher to record,average, and report grades without duplicating any work. In addition, thegradebook can be used to report mastery of objectives and standards to parents.It can also be the tool that links daily and period-by-period attendance to theschool management system.

· Database of Report Formats for Longitudinal Analysis ofStandardized Achievement Test Results: This database contains a set ofreport formats from which teachers can print standardized test informationabout their students. The reports would give several years’ comparisons,subtest results, and right/wrong response analysis. These reports would helpteachers understand the general areas of student needs.

· Database of Report Formats for Teacher Usein Making Instructional Decisions for Individual Students and Groups(including Traditional and Diagnostic Assessment Data): This database containsa set of report formats from which teachers can print daily diagnosticinformation for students or groups of students. Each report format would permitthe teacher to query for lists of students who have not mastered specificobjectives or standards. The reports could also include specific references toactivities that could help the identified students. This database would be useddaily by teachers as they check and re-check for specific student needs, andplan activities to meet those needs. These reportsprovide the quality assurance information needed to make mission-criticaldecisions about individual students or groups of students.

· Database of Report Formats for PrincipalUse in Making Decisions about Instructional Needs (including Teachers andStudents): This database of reports can give principals and other instructionalleaders information about programmatic needs and staff development needs basedon specific student performance results. These reports help principals identifyprofit and loss centers within the curriculum and in instructional programs.

· Database of Report Formats forAccountability and Reporting to the Community: This database contains report formats that clearly and conciselyshow what is happening in each of the curriculum areas. This informationis intended for the agencies that manage accountability, and for the community. While thisinformation would not identify specific teachers or students, it would identifyspecific areas and the level of achievement attained in those areas during thereported period.


The purpose of the curriculum management system is toprovide tools for teachers and principals, who must assure that systematicacademic growth is taking place. That assurance is based entirely oncontrolling the production process so that student performance results at theend of that process.


Using the Tools

With the appropriate technological tools to access importantstudent information, the typical instructional day, from a teacher’sperspective, might look like this:


· At the endof the previous day or at the beginning of the current day, the teacher logsonto the network. He or she queries CMS for lists of students who have notshown mastery of specific objectives and standards that are to be addressed inthe morning’s activities. CMS provides those lists of names and provides a listof possible activities and resources that might help those students. Thebiggest advantage of CMS is that it provides important information in a veryshort period of time, freeing the teacher to use his or her time to deal withthe face-to-face tasks of teaching and creating student performance.

· With thoselists, the teacher is able to create two or three groups that have specificneeds, and can organize the lessons and materials needed for those students.The teacher can deliver a preview or background lesson to the entire class.Then, he or she can move the students into their respective groups. Theactivities for the groups are organized so students in one or two groups canget started without further direction while the teacher works with anothergroup. The teacher is then able to visit each group or individual students atthe appropriate times. Students learn to stay on task during this process.

· With theproper planning and implementation, learning activities will include integratedcontent, spanning several subject areas, and the appropriate performanceobjectives for each. A social studies activity could include, for example,specific reading and writing tasks related to art and economics in the periodbeing studied.

· As studentscomplete specific tasks, the teacher is able to assess individual performanceand update each student’s CMS information. In some cases, students can updatetheir own information based on the teacher’s direction. When appropriate, theteacher can administer an informal diagnostic test or provide a formalassessment for a grade. Some of those assessments can be performed online,where each student record is automatically updated. At other times, the teacheror an aide will update each student’s record. These updates will always includemore than one content area and more than one objective or standard for eachcontent area.

· As the dayprogresses, the teacher is able to query CMS for status reports on studentperformance. If some students need additional help, they may be regrouped withothers for more assistance. Others who have shown mastery in specific areas canbe directed into other activities. At times, the teacher may regroup for peerassistance, using CMS reports to identify students who can help others withspecific activities. This process is repeated throughout the day, with CMSproviding the information needed to make the necessary instructional decisions.


Because instruction must be data-driven, the data must beaccurate, complete, and current at all times. The information that teachers canget from CMS will only be as good as the data given to CMS. The fact is thatteachers cannot teach at the same time they are collecting and recording dataabout student performance.


Schools must find ways to manage the data collection processwithout taking away from the teaching. Part of that process should includedaily planning time and clerical help for teachers. Teachers need clericalaides who can accurately collect and input data related to student performance.These aides can work with more than one teacher in a grade level, cluster, ordepartment. It is important to include this component if CMS is to work.Teachers’ time is too expensive and valuable to be used for tasks that do notinvolve face-to-face instruction.


Note that this changes the way teachers do business.Instruction becomes a data-driven activity rather than relying onscope-and-sequence charts provided by curriculum publishers. Scope-and-sequenceaddresses only the content needs; CMS provides information about individualstudent needs.



In order for the accountability process to be successful, itmust provide a quality assurance process that supplies teachers with theinformation they need to create systematic student performance. The curriculummanagement system described above provides the tools and information to assuresystematic growth. CMS creates a data-driven instructional process that changeswhen needed.


We know what to do (defined by our performance standards).We know how to do it (through our staff development programs). We do not knowwhen, for whom, by how much, or what next. That’s the information that can comeonly from CMS.


Without the information to make day-to-day decisions aboutwhat to do next for each student, teachers cannot be held accountable forstudent performance. Without that information, accountability will fail tochange the way our students perform. Without that information, none of us canlive up to the responsibility we’ve assumed for our children.




Gary West is director of Computing Services for GreenwoodSchool District 50 in Greenwood, South Carolina. He has degrees from EastCarolina University and the University of South Carolina. He taught secondarymathematics for 10 years. For the last 12 years, he has worked with educationaltechnology from the technical, instructional, management, and training sides.He writes regularly for educational journals.


E-mail: [email protected]

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.