There is wide-spread interest in the academic well-being of our students and research shows an undeniable relationship between student achievement and the quality of students’ lives after graduation. District leadership and staff are accountable to the students, families and community for the performance of their students.
View the Accountability Sketch Video for a short overview. Where does a board member start with understanding accountability? It helps to understand the basic components.
- The first, and perhaps most important component, is all educators and district leaders assume responsibility for all students regardless of the advantages or disadvantages they bring to school.
- Standards for all of the adults and students in the district must be set high and knowing where the district stands in terms of meeting district goals is basic to aligning scarce resources to those goals.
- Finally, accountability is used for positive change and not punishment.
What questions can the board use to reflect on accountability? Are there recommended action steps that could direct board efforts to monitor district performance and hold themselves accountable for district results?
What is accountability?
The concept of accountability within the context of education includes at least three types of accountability –external, internal and performance.
External accountability is mandated by the government or other regulatory agencies. Laws such as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that guide state and federal policy and practice are good examples of external or compliance accountability.
Accountability requirements driven by the norms of the profession are classed as internal or professional accountability. There is no mandated compliance to professional norms as they are represented by principles for which there is broad agreement1. Here, educators hold themselves accountable to the professional standards.
While many believe accountability is synonymous with assessment, it is not. However, performance accountability involves judging professional performance based on results. It holds educators responsible for student learning and accountable to the general public. Because of the attention showered on student performance on high stakes tests, performance accountability is the accountability system with which our community members are most familiar. Performance results are intended for purposes such as providing technical assistance to schools, initiating supplemental services to students and amending policies and practices that interfere with goal attainment.
How do these different forms of accountability impact the board of education? Often board members and educators find themselves responding to all three accountability types. For example, boards adopt policy to be compliant with state and federal laws, they encourage and fund recommended professional practices and they are deeply immersed in improvement planning related to performance accountability.
Educators know that accountability demands improving instruction and district leaders know that providing necessary supports, such as adequate instructional resources and high-quality professional development, is what accountability demands.
Douglas Reeves maintains that rather than being only accountable for student test scores districts that are interested in improving both classroom instruction and student achievement must also be accountable for "the antecedents of excellence, including teaching and professional practices, leadership and policy decisions, standards and curriculum, and a host of other variables."2
In simple terms, board accountability is an obligation and willingness to accept responsibility for our actions.
Accountability and structure
Developed over time, a healthy culture of accountability occurs in public, in assembly, in meetings, and in times when we are reminded that we are part of something larger. District leaders, board members and superintendent, understand they collectively “own” the results of their actions and decisions, they acknowledge and accept their personal choices, understand their accountability to self as well as those impacted by their decisions and actions and spend time in the reality of the work, rather than crediting themselves for good intentions.
A culture of accountability requires the board and administration to:
- set clear goals and expectations informed by data,
- demonstrate commitment toward improving governance,
- believe in the abilities of your district’s students and staff,
- monitor organizational performance, improvement efforts and achievement of district goals,
- provide constructive feedback, and
- take action when progress is not evident.
Accountability and student achievement
Accountability is based on the expectation that all students can and will excel, meaning we expect minority students, students who live in poverty, students with disabilities and other student groups to learn and perform the same as their peers.
It is the work of the board of education to ensure a system-wide culture in which excellent teaching and successful learning can take place.
The leadership team stays focused on its priorities by constantly asking, “How will this decision improve student performance?” District and school recommendations/actions rely on data that has been analyzed to evaluate the effectiveness of previous decisions. In effective schools, board members and district leadership take this notion of accountability very seriously as they understand their roles serving the students and community as responsible stewards.
Further, effective boards hold the school district accountable for meeting student learning expectations by committing to a continuous improvement plan regarding student achievement throughout the district.
To be accountable to the community, the board must understand and know if the district is moving toward its goals and shared vision. This requires the board to examine and measure the performance of the board itself (self-evaluation), the superintendent, treasurer and the district.
Research is clear that effective boards hold themselves accountable and periodically evaluate their own performance. Such self-evaluation reviews the board’s governance functions, monitors progress toward board performance goals and evaluates the effectiveness of board meetings.
Obviously, the board is responsible for holding the superintendent accountable for results. An effective superintendent evaluation process includes working with the superintendent to set very clear performance targets, monitor and discuss progress toward these job targets regularly as opposed to annually, and focus the process on improving performance as well as the board-superintendent relationship. Researchers Goodman, et.al, explained that effective boards accomplished this, in part by "holding periodic retreats with the superintendent to evaluate their work as a policy board, to assess the effectiveness of the board-superintendent team in improving student achievement, and to plan for the continuing education of their governance team."3
Evaluating district performance includes monitoring student achievement improvements, other district goals, district operations and fiscal performance. Delagardelle (2008) found that board members in effective districts monitored progress toward district goals and modified direction as a result. In the process they would hold themselves and the district staff accountable for meeting the expectations. Their approach to monitoring was not one of "mandate and hands off," but rather, a collective effort of shared (albeit different) responsibilities for watching the progress and ensuring success.4
- individual student results are measured and shared with staff and parents
- school and district data are reported in an easy to understand format
- student data are analyzed for growth and improvement.
- student performance results drive district and school decision making
Data is used to monitor if we are reaching our stated goals and expectations. However all performance data is not bound to assessment results. Other data to consider sharing with parents and community as part of the accountability system may include: the diversity of academic programs offered, professional preparation of educational professionals, student behavior and perceptions, information regarding the relationship between school and community, student and teacher attendance, educator professional development opportunities and parent and student perceptions of the school or district.
Researchers Lorentzen and McCaw stated the following about the importance of board's monitoring self, superintendent and district performance. "It must be understood that these are the things only the board can do. If the board fails to accomplish these tasks, there is no other body authorized to do so. The district is then in danger of never experiencing districtwide conditions in which high student achievement thrives."5
Effective board/superintendent teams ensure progress toward the vision by seeking feedback from students, staff, parents and the community. It is imperative to know the aspirations our community has for its children and the values and expectations the community holds for its schools. Likewise, the board needs to understand what the community wants to know in terms of performance. Parents and community members may be less interested in some data than others. Establish what performance indicators parents and community want to know.
Such input is solicited from staff and a wide spectrum of the community so district leaders can consider a diverse range of interests and perspectives in their decision-making and to gain community and staff support.
For more information on accountability or details about planning a customized workshop or board self-evaluation session, please contact Cheryl W. Ryan, Teri Morgan, Steve Horton or Kim Miller-Smith at (614) 540-4000 or (800) 589-OSBA.
Adhering to Board Standards Impacts Districtwide Student Success
OSBA Board Self-Evaluation Guide
The "Resources" links above and "File Attachments" located on the right hand side of the page are outstanding accountability resources used with the permission of the authoring organization. "Links" as noted under the Resources section of the page, are additional media resources, OSBA services and publications that support the district's accountability efforts.
1 Anderson, J. A., & Planning, I. I. (2005). Accountability in education. Paris: International Institute for Educational Planning.
2 Reeves, D. B. (2006). The Learning Leader: How to Focus School Improvement for Better Results. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
3 Goodman, R. H., & Zimmerman, W. G., Jr. (2000). Thinking differently: Recommendations for 21st century school board/superintendent leadership, governance, and teamwork for high student achievement. Arlington, VA: Educational Research Service.
4 Delagardelle, M. L. (2008). Roles and responsibilities of local school board members in relation to student achievement. doi:10.31274/rtd-180813-12019
5 Lorentzen, I. J., & McCaw, W. P. (2017, May). Why boardmanship matters. Texas Lone Star, 35(4), 12-15.