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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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How Common Assessments Boost Accountability

Bob Lenz

Co-founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA

In my last post, I discussed how schools and systems can use a different and more powerful type of accountability to drive intrinsic motivation for high performance by students and teachers. (This is opposed to an accountability system of rewards and punishment.) By making student work and teacher practice public and transparent, we can improve student learning faster and with more sustainability. Also in that post, I highlighted public exhibitions of work and instructional rounds as two "accountability" tools used by Envision Schools.

In this post, I'd like to share how using data from common assessments, Envision teachers are moving towards more powerful and meaningful accountability.

Common Assessment

Envision Schools teachers and instructional coaches have developed two internal formative assessment systems -- one for math and one for writing. Our math teachers have all agreed to assess students periodically using the same assessment during a common window of time. Once the assessments are completed and data reports made available, our math teachers gather to review their student results together. The meetings are carefully facilitated to ensure a safe place to share challenges as well successes. By making their student results public to their colleagues, the level of accountability to improve their practice rises dramatically; no one likes to be perceived as ineffective. The culture of the group is supportive but also urgent in suggesting changes of practice. Teachers are becoming accountable to each other in service of their students learning without any external system driving their work.

The common assessment for writing consists of a brief writing assessment that is directly aligned to our College Success Portfolio essay performance task -- a task that requires multiple drafts to achieve proficiency. All teachers look at the student data from the writing common assessment since literacy is a school and Envision system-wide focus. In this case, all of our teachers and schools are accepting accountability for improving critical and deep reading, writing and thinking.

In both of these assessment systems, teachers are deeply involved in the creation and evaluation of the student work. They view the data as aligned and critical to their student success. The level of individual and collective accountability has grown quickly since we started using these tools and processes. Most importantly, our students' math and literacy skills have improved.

I wonder if we could radically improve student learning if state governments allowed local systems/districts to create accountability systems like the Envision system (rather than tying performance evaluations to standardized test scores and ranking schools). What do you think?

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