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Accountability and Assessment Systems

This post is by Helen Janc Malone.

Welcome to our fourth blog week!

We live in an accountability era. From the standardizing testing, school report cards, to the PISA comparisons, the Race to the Top and other policy initiatives, it is clear that data-driven decision-making plays a critical role in shaping education reform. Some educators and reformers see the focus on data as a largely positive development that has helped us sharpen our focus, identify gaps in student knowledge and shortcomings in the existing schooling system, and push teachers and students to try harder to improve. Other educators and reformers see the existing accountability system as too narrowly focused on the basics, driven by punitive measures that undermine holistic education and 21st century skill building.

At the heart of this accountability debate is a fundamental question, What is the purpose of all the collected assessment data? Are they an end game or a starting point to educational change? And, should the focus be solely on external accountability or, should we refocus attention on professional responsibility and internal accountability? How do we have both?

Internationally, a similar debate is unfolding. Nations that have previously experienced limited access to data find the new accountability and assessment systems as critically important tools to assess the state of their education, to identify areas for improvement, and to leverage data to directly improve practice. In other nations, where student testing has become a cultural norm, pressure is mounting to re-evaluate how students are tested, for what purpose, and how the existing assessment systems are potentially promoting unintended consequences. Others yet, are redefining accountability as a professional responsibility with a moral purpose to focus on relationships, collaboration, transparency, and continuous professional improvement from the bottom-up. What this signifies is that accountability and assessments are deeply contextualized, in a push-pull relationship with policy forces and realities of practice in the field. This week's contributors discuss the above debates and contextual considerations.

This week's contributors are: Barry McGaw, a vice-chancellor's fellow at the University of Melbourne and the chair of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment, and Reporting Authority; Patrick Griffin, the chair of education, the director of the Assessment Research Centre, executive director of the Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills Project, and the associate dean, all at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne, in Australia; Elena Lenskaya, the dean of education at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, in Russia; Rukmini Banerji, the director of the Assessment Survey Evaluation Research Centre in New Delhi, India, and Madhav Chavan, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Pratham, a nonprofit organization in India working in education; and, Lorna Earl, a retired associate professor from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, the president of Lorna Earl and Associates, and a part-time professor at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand.

As always, we encourage you to join in the conversation by sharing our posts and commenting on the individual contributions.


Helen Janc Malone is the Director of Institutional Advancement at the Institute for Educational Leadership and the editor of the book Leading Educational Change.
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