Encouraging innovation within a strict accountability system requires teamwork and strategy
- Cederick L. Ellis Sr., superintendent of the McComb School District in Mississippi, shares with EdSurge the strategies he used to implement educational innovation to his failing district even within an environment of strict accountability to state assessments.
- To garner strong community support for the sweeping changes, district leaders formed a committee of parents, students, teachers, law enforcement officials, clergy, and business and industry partners to help craft an innovative five-year plan that focuses on student-centered learning emphasizing individual student growth rather than test scores.
- Beginning with one pilot school, the district plans to expand the changes across the district by 2020 using a four-pronged plan: a mastery-based education model, tailored professional development, shifting from grades to attainment of instructional levels, and using student growth rather than test scores as a lens for data.
Many educators face this same challenge of wanting to innovate but thinking that the accountability system is an obstacle. Current accountability measures were put in place in many states as a way to encourage progress toward a pre-determined set of goals or standards, but low-performing schools are often ready to make more substantial changes in order to see improvement.
Author Joe Siedlecki made this point in a blog published by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation: “That tradeoff – innovation vs. accountability – ultimately hurts kids. Many educators avoid promising new approaches and tools for fear of a temporary dip in standardized test scores. As Rick Hess says, ‘The way you measure quality and hold folks accountable is going to limit your ability to solve problems in new ways.’”
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) recognizes the need for flexibility as a way to innovate, but it's too soon to see the impact of the law on struggling schools. “Accountability and innovation are two words that sound like polar opposites," Greg Duncan and Richard Murnane write in an article published by the Hewlett Foundation. "Pairing these words — and the messages they invoke—in the context of education policy might be surprising. But this is precisely what we at the Hewlett Foundation are striving for as we look to the future under ESSA.”