What is accountability
Accountability is defined as “the quality or state of being accountable; especially an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions” (Merriam-Webster, 2012)

The call for accountability
Multiple factors have contributed to the widespread criticism of the American education system and to the call for raised accountability for student learning. Some name the importance of securing the future, international competitiveness of the United States of America and refer to a relatively low academic ranking of American students in comparison to other industrialized countries. Others are concerned with the relatively low high-school graduation rates and/or the closing of the achievement gap.

Accountability systems
Even though there are many assessment techniques such as student portfolios, student observation, or performance evaluation, multiple-choice standardized testing is the most common assessment system in the United States of America. With the implementation of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2002, standardized assessments were introduced in order to measure student learning. This process, called formative evaluation, forms the basis for teacher reflection and improvement. Moreover, testing scores are used for summative evaluations of schools and school systems. Based on student achievements, final conclusions in regards to the overall effectiveness are being drawn.

Who is accountable and why
While some ask for a balance of responsibility between schools, teachers, parents, students, communities, administrators, policy makers, and researchers, others advocate the sole accountability of just some of the parties involved. Most opinions agree however, that effective teaching is one of the single most important factors determining the success in a child’s education. This is especially relevant if other aspects, such as socioeconomic status and parent involvement, are controlled.

Teacher and School Accountability
Experts agree over the high need for quality leadership and effective instructors in our schools and classrooms. Schools and teachers need to be accountable and today they are being held accountable in more ways than ever before. So, what defines a successful teacher and what is an effective tool to assess a teacher’s competence? While it is obvious to everyone that the ones who lack the necessary knowledge or skills should not be teaching at all, competing opinions and theories exist on various other aspects. These include, but are not limited to, the degree of sole responsibility, the assessment of a teacher’s effectiveness, the connection to student learning, and the consequences an educator and schools should face in case of low student performance. With the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act came the accountability based on standardized test scores and also the introduction of various consequences and corrective actions when standards are not met. Latest developments, such as the establishment of the Race to the Top (RT3) program, are building on past educational laws and are redefining the culture of accountability.

Student Accountability
It can’t be denied that the student himself/herself plays a role in his/her educational success. While most seem to agree on the different type of student responsibilities, opinions sometimes vary by what degree students are accountable for their test scores, homework, school attendance, the development of proper learning skills, and the attitude towards school and learning in common.

Parent Accountability
Research has shown that parent/family involvement concerning the education of a child is an essential factor for a student’s academic success. Many experts consider parent involvement and healthy communication between school and home an integral part of successfully reaching a child’s educational goal. This includes improved learning, better test scores, and an overall increase in graduation rates. Parent have many opportunities to be involved in the child’s education, such as regular parent-teacher conferences, email contact between parent and teacher, newsletters, parent organizations, and, most importantly, the parent’s involvement in regards to the child’s homework and learning habits.

Other accountability factors
While most opinions concentrate on school, teacher, student, and parent accountability, it is also stated that communities and organizations play a vital role in the improvement of the education system. Even though these parties cannot be directly held accountable for achievement failure, it needs to be considered that factors such as tax revenue, property values, partnerships, and organization support services have strong effects on school resources, both financially and in regards to knowledge. Additionally, communities can have major input on schools through their right to vote on certain school related issues.

Trend and/or Issue

The accountability trend

Accountability for student learning is a trend that started many years ago. Initially, accountability systems concentrated mostly on rules and standards. In 1970/1980 the focus shifted to a more result oriented approach. By the year 2001, 33 states had established performance-based accountability systems, and in 2002 NCLB was signed into law, setting requirements for standardized testing in the subjects of reading, math, and science. In 2009, President Obama addressed the subject: “Calling for a “new culture of accountability” in schools, Mr. Obama proposed building on rather than replacing the No Child Left Behind education law ... it’s time to put more money, better tracking of teachers’ performance, higher standards and real accountability behind the law”. (Dinan, 2009) Following this philosophy, the accountability trend led to the recent establishment of the Race to the Top (RT3) program. Some of its key components in regards to teacher effectiveness are real-time feedback, professional development, performance based pay systems, and the dismissal of ineffective teachers. In the state of Georgia, this program initiated the creation of a new career ladder as well as a single Teacher Effectiveness Measure (TEM). The latter will be based on a teacher keys evaluation system which includes Teacher Assessment on Performance Standards (TAPS), surveys, and student growth/academic achievement. The goal is to build a new system that corrects past mistakes, and adjusts based on current results.
Within the accountability trend, many issues have been raised over the years.

Issues concerning standardized testing/high-stakes testing
Well-designed assessments carry many advantages for teachers as well as students. Regular testing evaluates the students’ strengths and weaknesses, and keeps students, teachers, and parents informed. Test results build the base for adjustments concerning instruction, learning and support, and are an essential tool to improve future achievement. Furthermore, machine-scored standardized tests are said to be the most cost-effective assessment systems.A disadvantage however, is noted in the fact that the NCLB requires that students reach “proficiency”, but leaves it up to the states to define the benchmarks of these performance levels. This ultimately leads to great variations of efficiency between individual states. Moreover, test design might be limited due to financial constraints, and valuable skills such as problem solving and/or critical thinking are not being assessed. Additionally, opinions are voiced that federal-level accountability is abstract and can never reach the effectiveness of local face-to-face accountability. The latter holds a person directly responsible for his/her performance, and allows for school specific situations or individual difficulties to be addressed. Furthermore, relying too heavily on high-stakes testing poses many problems since evaluations are heavily based on one single, standardized, large-scale assessment. Also, uncontrollable factors that influence students’ performance, such as poverty, parent involvement, or inadequate school funding, are not being considered.

Issues in regards to teacher/school accountability
Some advocates of standardized testing are asking for accountability of teachers and schools that is solely based on standardized test scores. Opponents argue that teacher and school assessment based on such strictly result oriented accountability systems that ask for 100% success, are not beneficial. In contrary, they put enormous pressure on educators, who might be in danger of losing their job when students perform poorly. Additionally, the focus can shift from quality teaching to “teaching to the test”, the consistent drilling of students for test instead of learning purposes, the manipulation of the test population in order to change test outcomes, all the way to outright cheating. The latter took place in the Atlanta cheating scandal, where supervisors instructed their subordinates to raise the scores by any means, or else.... For many experts the solution to effective teacher and school accountability lies in local accountability and an approach to improved academic achievement through personal growth, leadership training, professional development, collaborative teacher groups, and reward systems. This includes the opportunity to build on reflection, encouragement, innovation, the ability to take risks, and learning from the success of others. As stated by Ken Jones who asks for “high-resolution accountability” instead of “high-stakes teacher accountability”: “We most certainly need teacher accountability. But it should be the kind that builds capacity, not the kind that creates fear”. (Jones, 2012)

Issues in regards to student accountability
The concern is that the entire burden to improve student performance is placed on the schools and, in particular, on the teacher. While it is agreed upon that the student plays “some role” in his/her academic success, some believe that this role is rather small and learning is mostly dictated by the effectiveness of the teacher. However, others argue that while teachers and parents play an important role in the academic success of a student, one can’t forget that only children who want to learn can effectively be taught. Moreover, as Dorothy Rich puts it: “Student accountability gets harder as kids move forward in the grades because they get so used to adults doing it all.” (Strauss, 2009) Therefore a student’s responsibility and motivation play a vital role in his educational life. A concern is that taking the trend towards teacher accountability too far might lead to a decrease in individual student accountability and with that to an inability to take responsibility for one’s achievements/lack of achievements. This type of development might then cause reduced learning motivation, even greater pressure on teacher performance, and an overall lowered ability level of American students in comparison to other industrialized countries.

Issues in regards to parent accountability
Experts believe that parent involvement, accountability, and communication between school and parents is an essential part in a child’s education. Therefore, a lack of it, maybe due to circumstances such as single parenthood, dual working parents, language barriers, lack of time, knowledge or interest, and/or stressful family situations can become a problem for a student’s academic success. As President Obama states, ”The bottom line is that no government policies will make any differences unless we also hold ourselves more accountable as parents, because government, no matter how wise or efficient, cannot turn off the TV or put away the video games. Teachers, not matter how dedicated or effective, cannot make sure your children leave for school on time and do their homework when they get back at night”. (Dinan, 2009).

Proposal Addressing this Issue:


Baeder, J. (2011). How to fix accountability in U.S. Schools. Education Week. July 20, 2011. The author of this blog is a doctoral student studying principal performance and productivity at the University of Washington and served for a decade in the Seattle public school system, including as a principal. Addressing how to fix accountability in U.S. schools, he takes a look at the Atlanta cheating scandal and the pros and cons associated with the current methods of holding schools and teachers accountable. Since this piece is written by a teacher and principle it gives a good “insight view” on the issues the education system has to deal with in regards to accountability.
Cobb, C.D. (2004). Looking across the states: Perspectives on school accountability. The Journal of Educational Foundations, 18 (3), 59-79. In this article the author describes the accountability movement and the development of accountability systems in the United States of America. Key components of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) are discussed and various state specific assessment and accountability policies are addressed. The reader can obtain an overview while getting a feel for the difficulties of implementing a US-wide, effective accountability system that includes all necessary components.
Dinan, S. (2009). Obama wants teacher “accountability”. The Washington Times. March10, 2009. This article is about President Obama calling for a “new culture of accountability” in American Schools. He addresses the roles of federal government, states, schools, teachers, and parents in this reform, as well as the necessary financial support and aspects of accountability.
FOCUS St. Louis (2005). Who is accountable for children’s education? This is a discussion guide that touches different perspectives on the issues of accountability for children’s learning. The roles of schools, teachers, family, and community are discussed, possible advantages and disadvantages are stated, and various ways for alternative approaches are listed. This is an easy read and serves well as an introduction to the subject of accountability.
Georgia partnership for excellence in education (2012) Eighth edition. Top ten issues to watch in 2012. Issue 2. The second issue in this publication, “Assessing teachers: from highly qualified to highly effective”, discusses the newest developments concerning the accountability trend, and, in specific, the Race to the Top (RT3) program which concentrates on paying teachers based on performance. It further addresses how the state of Georgia, in order to measure the effectiveness of a teacher, plans the implementation of a Teacher Keys Evaluation System that will generate a single Teacher Effectiveness Measure (TEM). In my opinion, this article is a very important read, especially for current and future teachers of the state of Georgia.
Jones, K. (2012). Teacher accountability: high resolution, not high stakes. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). In his article Ken Jones opposes teacher accountability that is based on high-test scores only. He emphasizes the importance of local accountability, professional development, feedback, and continuous improvement. In this short read, the author summarizes what seems to be a widespread, current view on accountability and the direction the trend should be taking.
Learning First Alliance (2012). Standards and accountability: a call by the Learning First Alliance for mid-course corrections. The Learning First Alliance is a partnership of leading education organizations such as the American Federation of Teachers and the National PTA. With the goal of improving student learning the statement addresses standard based testing as well as the mid-course corrections needed in order to improve student achievement. In this context it also discusses the necessity of adequate professional development, resources, support, communication as well as functioning accountability systems.
Strauss, V. (2009). The Answer Sheet. Rich: make students accountable for more than grades and test scores. The Washington Post. October28, 2009. In this article Strauss lists an unpublished piece by Dorothy Rich, founder and president of the nonprofit Home and School Institute in Washington. Advocating student accountability, the article addresses that teacher and parent accountability has only limited positive effects as long as students do not play an active role in their education. The opinion points to an American trend towards adults taking responsibility for what children should be accountable for, and is a good read for any teacher, parent and student.