Is there an upside to Assessment for Accountability?

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Assessment for Accountability can strike fear in the heart of even the most experienced educator. But does it have to be this way? We look at the positive impact it can have on your classroom.

With league tables, progress indicators, floor standards, and PISA rankings all creating accountability pressure, it’s easy to forget that Assessment for Learning and Assessment for Accountability are two sides of the same coin. The end goal of both is to make sure each and every child has access to high-quality teaching and learning.

Here, I’ll write more about accountability, and bravely embark on something controversial — defend it.

The role Assessment for Accountability plays in education (in theory)

Every single child has the right to the best teachers, schools, and educational institutions on offer. And in theory at least, there is monitoring in place to ensure this is exactly what happens.

Children can’t evaluate educational standards for themselves, so we’ve set up organisations to do it on their behalf. I know what you’re thinking, it can seem like many of these organisations have forgotten about this, and their policies might be better kept as far away from children as possible!

But it’s only through these systems of accountability that we can accurately identify groups that are struggling in their learning, and schools that are struggling to deliver education to a certain standard.

Why is accountability important in schools?

Assessment for Accountability is necessary to identify where additional resources are most needed as well as which pupils are disadvantaged in and by the system.

These are the children who need accountability the most. Educators need to ask themselves, “Are we really doing our best for this child? Have we exhausted all possible resources? Have we done the learning we need, in order to be able to provide this individual with the best possible education?”

Without identification and knowledge, it’s impossible to take action.

But there’s a catch

No amount of statistical analysis will turn apples into oranges or vice versa. Individuals are impacted in many ways by the contexts they live and learn in. Some of those contexts are more conducive to learning than others, regardless of what happens in school. Which means that some schools, and children, have to work harder than others to achieve the expected standard.

Where systems of accountability fail

This is where the systems of accountability often fail. They are good at identifying the groups of pupils, schools, and areas that are low achieving, but poor at unpacking the underlying causes and finding solutions.

What too often happens is that a child who doesn’t fit on the right spot in the curve, is seen as a nuisance to the system and gets blamed for not being ‘resilient’ and ‘persistent’ or not having enough ‘grit’.

This is unfair to children who are navigating environments and situations that many adults would find tough.

The result? Children are often failed by the very accountability frameworks that should be there to protect them and ensure their success in education despite their challenges.

How can the Assessment for Accountability have a positive impact?

So how can Assessment for Accountability have the positive impact it should have for all children? As with everything that depends on what action is taken in the classroom.

I believe the solution lies in empowering and supporting teachers.

Every teacher is accountable not only to ‘the system’ but to the children in their classroom. At the end of the day, they are the only person who can ensure that teaching and learning is the best it can be.

Of course, this is a lot of pressure. But if there’s appropriate support systems and resources, it can also be a relief. Addressing challenges isn’t in the hands of a faceless bureaucrat — it’s in yours.

Assessment for Learning and Assessment for Accountability can go together. Whether it’s a child’s learning progress or a particular disadvantage they may be facing, assessment information adds to your everyday knowledge and understanding of each individual and can be used to deliver the best possible teaching and learning.

is a primary maths assessment expert. She currently works with
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