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The American Evaluation Association (AEA) supports educational accountability systems that are methodologically sound and produce credible, comprehensive, context-sensitive information. Such systems can strengthen teaching, learning, and educational governance. With this statement, AEA hopes to contribute to the continuing public debate and evolution of educational accountability systems and, in concert with our Guiding Principles for Evaluators and our earlier statement on high stakes-testing in education, to affirm and extend AEA’s tradition of encouraging high-quality evaluation.
Good evaluation has much in common with good accountability systems, including responsibility for assuring the highest quality data and their most appropriate use. Accountability systems are mechanisms by which (1) responsibilities and those responsible are identified, (2) evidence is collected and evaluated and, (3) based on the evidence, appropriate remedies, assistance, rewards, and sanctions are applied by those in authority. The relevance, accuracy, and completeness of the evidence are central to appropriate decision-making about policies, institutions, programs, and personnel and to the appropriateness of rewards and sanctions.
The research literature [see bibliography] identifies several important concerns that may arise with educational accountability systems, including:
The consequences of an accountability system that is not accurately or completely measuring student learning can be significant. An over-emphasis on standardized tests may lead to a decrease in the scope or depth of educational experiences for students, if the tests do not accurately measure the learning of some. In addition, if resource allocations are based on difficult-to-attain standards of success, an entire educational system may suffer. Consider in particular those schools that are struggling to serve students who face the greatest obstacles to learning. These schools may be at risk for having resources unfairly underestimated or disproportionately withheld.
AEA is dedicated to improving evaluation practice and increasing the appropriate use of evaluation data [see AEA's mission]. To encourage the highest quality accountability systems, we advocate approaches that feature rigor and appropriate methodological and procedural safeguards. AEA encourages movement in the following directions for educational accountability systems.
Educational accountability has the potential to improve the quality of our schools and the experiences and achievements of our children. The concerns and strategies outlined above are intended to encourage educational accountability systems that fulfill that potential.
Development of this statement
A task force composed of David Bernstein, Linda Mabry (chair), Howard Mzumara, Katherine Ryan, and Maria Whitsett was authorized by the AEA Board of Directors to prepare a public statement for issuance by the organization on the subject of educational accountability. Plans, progress, and a draft were presented to AEA members at three town hall sessions during the 2003-2005 association conferences. Additional internal review of drafts was provided by ten AEA members. External review was also provided by a state commissioner of education, a prominent measurement author and technical advisor to many states, a former president of the National Council for Measurement in Education and American Educational Research Association, and the president of a regional education board. The resulting statement was submitted to the AEA Public Affairs Committee, revised based on their feedback, edited or reviewed by two former AEA journal editors and two presidents, and resubmitted. Preliminary Board approval was obtained June 24, 2006, after which the statement was released for online review and comment by the full AEA membership, revised again, and approved by the Board November 1, 2006.
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