BOULDER, CO (May 1, 2023)—A new report by more than 20 education experts from across the U.S. describes the policy changes that will be needed for testing and accountability policies in K-12 schools to serve the long-stated goals of excellence and equity. Educational Accountability 3.0: Beyond the Every Student Succeeds Act is a guide for improving federal legislation, as well as state and local polices.
The project was led by education professors Jack Schneider and Kevin Welner of UMass Lowell and the University of Colorado Boulder, respectively.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was signed into law in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson, and the latest reauthorization of ESEA was 2015’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This new report provides clear direction for the next reauthorization, explaining how the law can support the sorts of classrooms that are most beneficial for students. The report also sets forth measures that states and school districts can take now, even before the next reauthorization, to improve their testing and accountability policies.
“All 50 states assess student learning and school quality, and all 50 states hold schools and districts accountable for results. But none has assessment and accountability systems that actually strengthen performance or advance the aim of educational equity,” observed Schneider, co-leader of the effort and director of UMass Lowell’s Beyond Test Scores Project.
Our goal in this project was to outline a set of principles, grounded in research, that would guide policymakers in the construction of more valid, more democratic, and more just approaches to assessment and accountability—whether that means creating new flexibility under the current law, or reauthorizing ESEA to replace ESSA.
In evaluating current federal and state laws governing K-12 education, the two dozen researchers in the group drew on two decades of study findings to identify six shortcomings of the current law and six corresponding improvements, each of which is fleshed out in the report.
The reforms identified by the researchers are listed below.
- Lesson Learned from NCLB/ESSA: Don’t let the accountability system drive poor practices in classrooms.
Recommendation: Align assessment policy with goals for high-quality curricula and instruction.
- Lesson Learned: Resources and capacity building are at least as important as high standards and demands.
Recommendation: Develop a system with reciprocal accountability.
- Lesson Learned: Accountability must be grounded in the voices, goals, and participation of each community.
Recommendation: Ensure that representative community members play a meaningful role in the system.
- Lesson Learned: The accountability system should fully reflect what we want schools to do.
Recommendation: Move toward a broader array of school quality indicators.
- Lesson Learned: Reducing school performance to a simple rating or letter grade fails to provide sound and useful information.
Recommendation: Ensure interpretable and actionable results.
- Lesson Learned: A vitally important and complex accountability system requires continuous evaluation and improvement.
Recommendation: Design a system that will evolve and improve.
“None of these reforms are easy, but they are all necessary,” said CU Boulder’s Welner, who directs the National Education Policy Center, which co-published the report. “Accountability policies deeply and powerfully impact students’ classroom experiences. When we get those policies wrong, we damage our children’s opportunities to learn.”
In the report, the researchers ask Congress to implement their recommendations as the legislative body works to reauthorize federal K-12 school policy. But they also argue that there’s no need to wait to put the changes they seek in motion.
“School districts and states need not wait for a reauthorization,” the report concludes. “The U.S. Department of Education can, for instance, work with states to leverage the Every Student Succeeds Act in ways that advance the six principles outlined in this report.”
These researchers, along with classroom practitioners, community members, and others, are standing by, ready to move accountability policy to a new, more productive era.