Andreas Schleicher, OECD, listed ten key findings in the Wellcome Institute’s report on accountability (2013).
Autonomy and accountability go together. School systems which allow schools a high degree of autonomy in allocating resources, deciding what’s taught and how it’s assessed, tend to do better than school systems which give little autonomy to schools. But this autonomy needs to be tied to accountability.
Pupils tend to do better overall in countries which use external, standards based exams. However, there isn’t a clear-cut relationship between pupil performance and using standardized tests. The gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils tends to be lower in countries which use external exams. (This isn’t the case in the UK which has one of largest gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils).
Schools which compete for students tend to raise performance. However, this is often a bi-product of pupils’ socio-economic status. Parents with a higher socio-economic status are more likely to choose schools with high academic results. Where exam results are published, this data can influence choice. But published statistics don’t identify what factors influence performance. Such data can, therefore, give inadequate help to politicians and educators in planning and running effective assessment and accountability systems.
The OECD Review of Evaluation and Assessment Frameworks for Improving School Outcomes* lists 10 key findings:
1 The pupil must be at the centre of a framework for evaluation and accountability. There needs to be coherence between pupil assessment, teacher and school leader appraisal, judging schools and evaluating the school system as a whole. This coherent framework can then feed back into classroom practice.
2 Planning and intervention should be informed by a “balance of components” such as pupil outcomes, the performance of the entire school system and contextual information.
3 There should be agreed general principles for school evaluation, pupil’s formative assessment and so on. But there should be sufficient flexibility to allow for local variations.
4 The non-public sector should be integrated into the accountability system. Some countries require private schools to comply with the national framework. Or there could be “protocol agreements” which lay down general principles which private schools are encouraged to follow.
5 There should be a balance struck between evaluation and accountability. The relationship between assessment designed to inform teaching (formative assessment) and “criterion-based summative assessment” needs to be managed.
6 There needs to be sufficient communication between different parts of the accountability framework so that evaluation feeds back into effective practice.
7 Reputable and authoritative agencies should provide advice on implementing evaluation. These agencies should encourage innovation based on research.
8 Priority should be given to develop and sustain an effective accountability framework. This takes considerable time and resources.
9 Emphasis should be placed on how evaluation and accountability can improve teaching practice.
10 The purpose behind evaluation and its results must be communicated clearly. A long-term vision is essential if stakeholders and society as a whole understand the reasons behind the evaluation framework and its role in national strategy.
The essential focus of any accountability system is the pupil. This should never be forgotten. There are huge challenges in building effective evaluation. It’s essential that any accountability system does not have “unintended negative consequences” which undermine the quality of learning.
(The OECD warned in its Economic Survey UK 2011 that there was too much emphasis on raw test results in England. This had negative effects such as teaching to the test, "gaming", neglecting other essential skills and producing incentives for schools to discourage applications from parents of children likely to reduce a school's exam performance. But the consultation document of secondary school accountability published in 2013, no longer available on the DfE website, promised even more emphasis on exam results. It remains to be seen whether the proposed accountability system will be changed after the consultation results are analysed.)
(Note: the words in brackets are those of the author not the OECD.)
2 May 2013