Continuous improvement should be embedded in the language of every state accountability system. Without changing the ways schools operate, improvements are likely to be short-lived. The very nature of current accountability policies demands that education systems implement new programs and teaching techniques, and that teachers have the expertise to teach to high standards. It goes without saying that teachers who have not yet developed that expertise require extensive professional development.
The real question about accountability systems may be: How can states foster true capacity building? In most cases, states have limited capacity to help local districts or schools grapple with issues of continuous improvement and professional development. States can provide the mandate. That is, the language of accountability systems can focus on those elements most critical to ongoing improvement. For example, systems show the importance of continuous improvement by awarding evidence of growth and improvement. Most accountability systems of the states in SEDL’s region describe indicators of gains in student achievement. In the development of Arkansas’s system, for example, it became evident that teachers need support to understand what standards mean for instruction and assessment. As a result, professional development, along with high standards and student assessment, is one of the three components of its comprehensive system of accountability and assessment.
Access to data is another critical element of a state’s accountability system. Being able to review data and make decisions based on those data is necessary if the staff of a school is to monitor and improve its performance. States that report data and make them available in multiple ways make it easier for a district or school to develop the ability to continuously check on its progress toward meeting its improvement goals.
Before teachers and principals can be held accountable for new and more effective programs, instructional techniques, and curricula, they must see a need for change and be willing to do things differently. Then they must receive professional development and continuous support to become comfortable with the new practices. Finally, they must be given time to demonstrate effectiveness.
The issue of teacher quality took center stage among governors, corporate CEOs, and education leaders during the third National Education Summit in Palisades, N.Y. This group put forth three recommendations for strengthening the teacher workforce. It proposed that:
- universities strengthen their teacher preparation programs to provide educators with the content knowledge and skills needed to help students meet higher academic standards;
- states create alternative pathways into the teaching profession to attract the most talented candidates;
- professional development for teachers already in the classroom become a priority and emphasize tying such programs directly to standards.
Teacher quality and professional development continue to occupy policymakers’ attention and are likely to be legislative issues in all five states that SEDL serves.
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