New ways to think about framing accountability to your community

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Lessons learned from implementing student learning objectives

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New ways to think about framing accountability to your community.John Cronin, Ph.D.Senior Director of Education ResearchNWEA

What you will learn in the next 45 minutesA proposed meaning for accountabilityThe value of transparency.A different approach to metrics.Observations based on my review of available community accountability reports.

Accountability is NOT simply about meeting targets!!

What is accountability?

Accountability is a dialogue between the stakeholders and the leaders of their schools. Part of that dialogue is understanding and aligning the goals and objectives of the parents, the schools, and the larger community. Another part of that dialogue is discussing how your schools are doing in reaching those goals.

What is accountability?

To be answerable means that accountability is a dialogue between the stakeholders and the leaders of their schools. One part of that dialogue is understanding the goals and objectives of the community. Another part of that dialogue is discussing how your schools are doing in reaching those goals.

The most important part of the dialogue is what youre doing to improve performance based on this information, which is leading.

The lesson from the Atlanta cheating scandal

Source: Aviv, R (2014, July 21). Wrong Answer. The New Yorker. Retrieved on June 16, 2016 from more than two thousand interviews, the investigators concluded that forty-four schools had cheated and that a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation has infested the district, allowing cheatingat all levelsto go unchecked for years. They wrote that data had been used as an abusive and cruel weapon to embarrass and punish. Several teachers had been told that they had a choice: either make targets or be placed on a Performance Development Plan, which was often a precursor to termination. At one elementary school, during a faculty meeting, a principal forced a teacher whose students had tested poorly to crawl under the table.

Differences in fall-spring test durationsAn illustration of gamingDifferences in growth index score based on fall-spring test durations

The four principles that guide your communications to your audiences.Clearly identify who your audience is.

Understand what that audience wants to know about your schools and their performance.

Be transparent about how you are performing on these objectives.

Communicate your strategy to improve performance, and corrective action when strategy fails.

The community-based accountability experiment

A simple processEstablish processes to involve the community in setting accountability goals as an alternative or complement to ESSA objectivesUse these objectives to drive local performance.Report performance and progress on those goals annually.

The annual report contains two parts, a management letter, and indicators.

The management letter isYour narrative. It is the centerpiece of the accountability report. The report on indicators isLike financials in an annual report. They are a common set of facts (mastered by all leaders) that are the basis for discussing student achievement. They demonstrate transparency and, if well presented, allow readers to make their own judgments

Part 1 - The management letterIs an opportunity to show leadership.

It is a conversation with your stakeholders about the performance of the school system. In it you explain your business, your successes and failures, and discuss your intended actions for improving the educational experience of students.

The tone of the management letterShould be optimisticShould be plain yet thoughtfulShould be conversationalShould be realistic in addressing successes and transparent about problemsShould be effusive in praising of subordinates, critical of yourself.

The management letterIs not simply for the community

It requires the districts leader(s) to think seriously about your work and communicate coherently about the state of the district and your strategy. It forces you to reflect and clarify your thinking.

Be transparent about failuresHave a strategy in place to address itAccept responsibility and temper expectationsDemonstrate progressHow to be transparent without getting killed

Our bad news from 2014 comes from (Burlington-Northern Santa Fe) and is unrelated to earnings. During the year, BNSF disappointed many of its customers. These shippers depend on us, and service failures can badly hurt their businesses. (transparency about failure)

BNSF is, by far, Berkshires most important non-insurance subsidiary and, to improve its performance, we will spend $6 billion on plant and equipment in 2015. That sum is nearly 50% more than any other railroad has spent in a single year and is a truly extraordinary amount, whether compared to revenues, earnings or depreciation charges. (our strategy to address failure)

An illustration of good tone from the Berkshire Hathaway Management Letter

Though weather, which was particularly severe last year, will always cause railroads a variety of operating problems, our responsibility is to do whatever it takes to restore our service to industry-leading levels. That cant be done overnight: The extensive work required to increase system capacity sometimes disrupts operations while it is underway. (recognizing responsibility and tempering expectations)

Recently, however, our outsized expenditures are beginning to show results. During the last three months, BNSFs performance metrics have materially improved from last years figures. (reporting progress)From the Berkshire Hathaway Management Letter

One of our commitments is to help more students graduate prepared for college. Advance Placement is a key piece of this strategy and our goals were to increase participation in the program, increase the number of students sitting for AP tests, and improving average scores on AP exams.

Our data show that we are doing well on two of the three. In the past three years weve increased the number of students participating in the program by 20% across our high schools, and the average scores on the exams have generally improved. In English for example, the average score improved from 3.5 to 3.7 and In Calculus AB the average score improved from 3.1 to 3.5. Thats impressive progress and all credit goes to Marsha White, who led this initiative and the teachers at Wilson and Jefferson high schools who made this happen. (crediting others for success)

Unfortunately, the storyline isnt perfect. While more students are taking the courses, the improvement in the number of students sitting for the tests has not kept pace. (Admit failure)How this would read in a community-based accountability management letter

You know from news reports that the costs of poor performance on the state pension fund have passed to schools. This has stressed our budget and one consequence was that we froze hiring at the high schools. Because of retirements and transfers at some of the high schools, we did not replace AP teachers who retired or transferred and those courses were dropped. I shouldve seen that problem coming (accepting responsibility and tempering expectations).

This year our principals reviewed teacher assignments and are reinstituting courses in areas where we have a teacher with appropriate credentials. Because those teachers will be dealing with new content and larger class sizes, were funding summer training for them in both the AP content and in teaching strategies that better enable adaption of instruction with larger student groups (demonstrating progress).

We cant promise that this will entirely solve the problem, and our pass rate on AP exams may take a hit while our new AP teachers master their assignment. Ill keep you apprised in my monthly newsletter as to how this is going. How this would read in a community-based accountability management letter

Observations from the review of data in community-based accountability reports

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not to their own facts. Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Your annual report should be your almanac when it comes to student achievement facts.

Any member of your leadership team who represents educational data should be thoroughly familiar with it.

In any data discussion, the discussion should begin with agreement on what the facts actually are.

Learnings from reviews of annual reports


The reports are data rich!They are reflect a broader picture of schools than standardized tests and school report cards.They report on aspects of education that the community values.They provide measurements of performance.

The volume of data in the reports is overwhelmingSuggestion The management letter should bring focus. Make sure every indicator reflects an outcome that the community values.

The scorecard section of the report can be an appendix.

The reports focus more on scoring schools than informing stakeholders.Suggestion Establish goals rather than categories and report whether schools have achieved the goal, and whether they are improving, and accelerating.

Exemplary (3 points)Recognized (2 points)Acceptable (1 point)Unacceptable(0 points)Percentage of students reading at or above grade level in third grade100-90%80-89%70-79%

XLess than 70%

From a community-based accountability report

Our first grade reading rate continues to be below goal and we were alarmed by the declines in reading that we were seeing in 2009 through 2013. Two years ago, we brought in a part-time specialist to help at-risk readers and teachers added more guided reading practice to the schedule. The last two years show weve improved, and that improvement is accelerating thanks to the hard work kindergarten and first grade teachers. To get closer to goal this year, were paying for teachers to take additional staff development and offering release time for teachers to observe and coach each other as they implement new practices.How this could be communicated in a management letter?

Four types of metrics:Achievement How are students learningGrowth How much progress do students make within a yearImprovement Are we improving achievement and/or rate of growth of students over timeAcceleration Is the rate of change accelerating, decelerating, going negative

The reports are heavy on reporting status and light on reporting trendsSuggestion Report your key indicators longitudinally and focus on improvement and acceleration/deceleration in those indicators.

GradeStudentsAthletes%Fine Arts%93276148750%225676%103190121541%165656%11296793231%123342%12279570324%102835%

Percent of students participating in athletics and fine arts programs

The reports generally do not address issues related to equity.Suggestion Identify and include metrics in your report that show how you are addressing the particular needs of at-risk and minority populations and how you are addressing achievement gaps.

Calculus AB20142015Enrolled% Taking% 3+Enrolled % Taking% 3+All students34725774%38930077%

Enrollment and student performance in AP Calculus AB

Calculus AB20122013Enrolled% Taking% 3+Enrolled % Taking% 3+All students34725774%38930077%Minority students1004070%1305070%

Comment Our goal has to improve both enrollment and minority participation in our AP program and our schools have accomplished that. Were concerned that while minority participation increased, the proportion of minority students actually testing declined this past year. Our principals reported that cost of the exams has been a barrier for some students, so weve committed to paying the cost of the exam for all students identified as eligible for free and reduced lunch.Enrollment and student performance in AP Calculus AB

The reports report satisfaction but show little interest in the dissatisfied.Suggestion Include follow-up questions to illuminate who and what may contribute to dissatisfaction and discuss how you are addressing those issues.

Very SatisfiedSomewhat SatisfiedDissatisfiedUnsure201430%55%9%3%

Survey Question How satisfied are you with the education that the school system provides your child?

Very SatisfiedSomewhat SatisfiedDissatisfiedUnsure201430%55%9%3%Under 30k12%60%22%6%30-70k20%62%15%3%Above 70k40%50%6%4%

Survey Question How satisfied are you with the education that the school system provides your child?

Top five sources of dissatisfaction high schools parents who responded somewhat or dissatisfied

Fees for athletic and extracurricular participation (15%)Lack of communication/responsiveness by some teachers (12%)Cutbacks in AP course availability (8%)Poor teaching (6%)Elimination of jazz choir program (4%)

The reports lack leading indicators that are predictive of success at the next level.Example The report will include dropout rates, but lacks reporting on elementary and middle school indicators that are empirically tied to this metric and would be key to prevention.

The reports show little evidence that a poor result leads to some decision to change it.

Florida DistrictHighly EffectiveEffectiveNeeds ImprovementDeveloping UnsatisfactoryVA ScoreFlorida Ranking144.4%55.6%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.39109225.0%75.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.37121390.9%9.1%0.0%0.0%0.0%-0.142802460.7%39.3%0.0%0.0%0.0%-0.142797581.2%18.8%0.0%0.0%0.0%-0.162831637.3%54.2%1.7%0.0%6.8%0.12880781.3%18.8%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.22402841.7%55.6%1.4%1.4%0.0%-0.343274952.2%47.8%0.0%0.0%0.0%0.166641027.0%66.2%1.4%0.0%5.4%01764117.1%72.6%9.5%10.7%0.0%-0.082445

Teacher Evaluation Ratings in Eleven Florida Schools 2013

Thank you!E-mail: john.Cronin@nwea.orgOrganization Website: www.nwea.orgContact:


GoalFranklin SchoolPercentage of students at or above grade level at the end of 1st grade

Sheet1GoalFranklin SchoolSeries 3200990%80%2201090%77%2201190%74%3201290%70%5201390%72%201490%74%201590%79%


HS Graduation RateHS Graduation Rate - Unacceptable

Sheet1HS Graduation RateSeries 2Series 3201575%2.4220144.4220131.8320122.85201120102009


HS Graduation RateHS Graduation Rate Unacceptable but improving

Sheet1HS Graduation RateSeries 2Series 3201575%2.42201472%4.4220131.8320122.85201120102009