Flawed Reports Insist Ineffective Accountability Systems Must Continue

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Key New NEPC Review Takeaway: Series of reports fails to make a cogent argument for continuing the use of test-based accountability systems.

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A four-part series on accountability from Bellwether Education Partners explores school accountability systems from several different angles: their historical roots, their theory of change, and their impact on student outcomes, as well as the effect of COVID-related school closures on testing and accountability.

These publications, collectively entitled, Making Next Year Count: Equity in School Accountability, were reviewed by Professor Edward J. Fuller of Penn State University, who found them problematic for a number of reasons.

The series correctly concludes that state accountability systems have not improved student achievement or closed achievement gaps over the last decade. Despite this conclusion, however, the series puzzlingly insists that state testing and accountability systems must be reinstated in 2020-21 and must focus on schools with the lowest performance levels.

Professor Fuller pointed out that underlying this conclusion was the reports’ failure to adequately review the existing literature. As a result, the reports overstate some research conclusions and ignore a large body of research about factors that influence student outcomes. Specifically, the reports do not acknowledge the critical need for access to quality educators and fiscal resources, which are foundational to any serious effort to improve student outcomes. Moreover, the reports focus very narrowly on test scores as the primary outcome of schooling and ignore outcomes such as critical thinking, media literacy, and civics that are more important than ever.

For these reasons, Professor Fuller concludes, policymakers are advised to ignore this series and access more nuanced reviews and recommendations regarding school accountability in the coming years.

Find the review, by Edward J. Fuller, at:

Find the overview page for the series, Making Next Year Count: Equity in School Accountability, written by Alex Spurrier, Chad Aldeman, Jennifer O'Neal Schiess, and Andrew J. Rotherham and published by Bellwether Education Partners, at:

Find the individual reports:

The Historical Roots and Theory of Change of Modern School Accountability, by Alex Spurrier, Chad Aldeman, Jennifer O’Neal Schiess, & Andrew J. Rotherham: https://bellwethereducation.org/sites/default/files/Bellwether_Accountability-HistoricalRoots_Final.pdf

The Impact of Standards-Based Accountability by Alex Spurrier, Chad Aldeman, Jennifer O’Neal Schiess, & Andrew J. Rotherham: https://bellwethereducation.org/sites/default/files/Bellwether_Accountability-Impact_Final.pdf

Assessment and Accountability in the Wake of COVID-19, by Alex Spurrier, Chad Aldeman, Jennifer O’Neal Schiess, & Andrew J. Rotherham: https://bellwethereducation.org/sites/default/files/Bellwether_Accountability-COVID19_Final.pdf

Refocusing the Priorities of Accountability, by Alex Spurrier, Chad Aldeman, & Jennifer O’Neal Schiess: https://bellwethereducation.org/sites/default/files/Bellwether_Accountability-RefocusingPriorities_Final.pdf

NEPC Reviews (http://thinktankreview.org) provide the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC Reviews are made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: https://nepc.colorado.edu

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William J. Mathis

Edward J. Fuller
Penn State University
(814) 865-2233
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