Develop Assessment and Accountability Systems to Monitor Student
Rose M. Ylimaki
Accountability Levels and Issues
A Comprehensive Assessment System
Summative and Formative Assessments
According to the ISLLC Standard 2, effective instructional leaders develop assessment and
accountability systems to monitor student progress. Today’s instructional leaders face
accountability pressures at all levels. Principals/instructional leaders must be able to implement
and monitor various summative and formative assessments, align assess ments with curriculum
and instruction, and lead difficult conversations regarding achievement gaps. In other words,
principals/instructional leaders must have the assessment literacy (knowledge and skills) to
enhance learning opportunities and close achievement gaps. This chapter presents leadership
for effective accountability and assessment systems (formative and summative) that improve
teaching and learning for all students.
Extended Reflection 6.1
Define accountability. Describe your current assessment system, including summative and formative
assessments. Be prepared to share your thoughts with your colleagues. Refer to your answers as you read
Accountability Levels: Direct and Indirect Influences
As a landmark of education reform in the United States, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act
of 2001 uses accountability to leverage policy implementation. Some studies have indicated
direct positive effects of NCLB on leveraging much-needed improvements for students in
persistently underperforming schools (e.g. Skrla et al., 2004). Findings from other studies
disagree. For instance, analyses of state test score trends revealed the marginal effects of NCLB
accountability policy on student achievement gaps and graduation-rates between racial and
socioeconomic groups of students (Lee, 2006; Orfield, Losen, & Balfanz, 2006). Still other
studies have raised concerns about the effects of NCLB policy on the narrowing of teaching
practices, curriculum (e.g. Daly, 2009; Ylimaki, 2011), and on local leaders’ decision-making
practices to a focus on standardized testing data (e.g. Duke et al., 2003; Luizzi, 2006). Thus,
studies of NCLB accountability indicate direct influences on student achievement overall,
marginal direct influences on closing racial/ethnic achievement gaps, and some unintended
(indirect) influences on narrowing the curriculum and teacher decision-making strategies.
Direct and indirect influences of accountability are further described in the next two sections.
Federal and State
The federal NCLB Act of 2001 and related state testing mandates use accountability as a direct
lever of policy implementation. In particular, the No Child Left Behind Act articulates
consequences for failure to make adequate yearly progress on state tests toward a goal of 100
percent proficiency by the year 2014. As this chapter is written, thirty-two states have filed for
waivers regarding the 2014 goal. Regardless of the 100 percent waivers, if schools do not make
adequate yearly progress on state-administered standardized tests over a series of years, their
leaders and teachers face severe consequences, including conversion to charter school status,
staff restructuring, and reconstitution. In a similar vein, Race to the Top rewards schools for
attaining “labels” of high performance. School performance indicators may also impact
principals in other ways, including particularly administrator and teacher evaluations. For
instance, Arizona mandated that districts base 33–50 percent of principal evaluations on
student academic growth or student outcomes on state tests (Arizona Revised Statutes § 15–
Common Core Curriculum also uses accountability as a lever for increased rigor and postsecondary preparation. As this chapter is written, forty-five states have adopted the Common
Core Standards, and each state must develop an accountability system to ensure that each child
has access to a “high quality education” and post-secondary options. According to the Common
Core Standards initiative, schools must accomplish these goals by: (1) driving school and
district performance towards college and career readiness; (2) distinguishing among students
performances in order to provide supports and interventions to students most in need; and (3)
providing timely and transparent data to promote action at all levels; and (4) fostering
continuous improvement throughout the system. PARCC assessments will also directly
influence district and school use of resources within each of these recommended processes. If
PARCC assessments require students to be proficient in particular strategies and in using
technology to demonstrate their proficiency, how are districts likely to respond? Districts are
likely to expend resources on technology and professional development aimed at these tested
Closely related, instructional leaders are often directly influenced and held accountable for
many local district accountability policies or implantation mandates. For example, many
districts mandate the use of locally developed benchmark assessments or commercial tests,
such as Galileo, that have predictive value for state test performance. That is, quarterly
benchmarks are aligned with state test items, and student benchmark performance predicts how
well students will perform on the yearly state assessments. The logic is as follows: if students
struggle on particular benchmark items, they are likely to struggle on the state assessments.
Benchmark assessment results, then, provide teachers with critical information to guide
instruction for the remainder of the school year. Many districts hold principals and teachers
accountable for benchmark assessment results, with rewards that include performance pay tied
to teacher evaluation systems and even merit pay. As a result, some studies have noted a
narrowing of curriculum and teacher decision-making focus to the benchmark and state
assessment results (e.g. Johnson & Johnson, 2005; Ylimaki, 2011). Today’s instructional
leaders must be careful to avoid narrowing the curriculum to standardized test items.
School and district leaders are also influenced and held accountable in indirect ways. For
instance, local/regional newspapers and organizations often publish state assessment results
that indirectly put leaders under tremendous pressure to improve performance. Such reports
frequently rank districts and schools according to their performance on assessments with topperforming districts/schools at the top and low-performing ones at or near the bottom. When a
district and/or school performs at or near the bottom of such a ranked list over a series of years,
local school boards, parents, and other community members often see their local schools (and
leaders) as deficient. As a result, instructional leaders may change their priorities to focus on
tests. And while a focus on high test performance is not bad in and of itself, the related
narrowing of curriculum and decisions is problematic for educating the whole child (e.g.
Johnson & Johnson, 2005; Ylimaki, 2011).
Consider the following questions:
• How often have your professional learning communities (PLCs) focused on standardized
test data analysis?
• How much time do your PLCs spend on formative assessments aligned with standardized
Now think about these questions:
• How often have your PLCs focused on community/civic engagement or service learning?
• How often do you and your colleagues talk about students’ funds of knowledge and
background information as assets for the curriculum?
• How often do your PLCs talk about improving the arts and humanities?
Answers to these questions point to the need for a comprehensive assessment system aligned
to curriculum, instruction, and learning for the whole child.
Ask a Principal about Accountability Pressures
Ask a principal about the different types of accountability he/she faces. Prompt him or her to talk about
national accountability sources (NCLB, Race to the Top, Common Core assessments), state accountability
(testing mandates, principal/teacher evaluation systems), and local sources (newspaper rankings,
community, school board, benchmark assessments). Then ask the principal how he/she manages these
Finally, ask him/her how the accountability pressures have reduced or even eliminated other goals (e.g.
service learning, the arts). Be prepared to share your responses with the class.
A Comprehensive Assessment System and its Components
Effective instructional leaders use formative and summative assessment measures, as essential
components of a comprehensive accountability system that connects assessments, instruction,
and curriculum for the whole child within local communities and beyond. We can divide an
assessment system into two broad categories of assessments: summative and formative.
Essentially, summative assessments provide information about what students have learned at a
particular point in time, and formative assessments provide feedback about what students are
learning during an instructional time. Teachers use formative assessment feedback to modify
their instruction in ways that help all children learn more during subsequent instruction.
Summative assessment (an assessment of learning) typically documents how much learning
has occurred at a particular point in time. Overall, the purpose of summative assessment is to
measure the level of student, school, or program success. Today’s instructional leaders must
know how to analyze summative assessment data and use that data to analyze program
effectiveness and develop plans for school or curriculum improvement (see Chapter 10 for
suggestions). At the same time, leaders must recognize summative assessments as part of an
overall comprehensive assessment system.
Summative assessments are most often given periodically to determine at a particular point
in time what students know and do not know. Commonsensically, the term “summative
assessment” is often associated with large-scale standardized tests, such as state
assessments, but summative assessments are also used in district and classroom programs. In
this sense, the key is to think of summative assessments as a way to measure student learning
at a particular point in time. Summative assessments provide important information that can
only help in evaluating specific points in the learning process. Because summative assessments
of learning are spread out over time and occur after the instruction occurs (from a few weeks
to a year), they are useful to evaluate the effectiveness of programs and access to a quality
education. In the wake of NCLB and related accountability policies, instructional leaders must
examine summative data for evidence of equitable opportunities for learning as well as
Equity audits and assessment processes. Skrla et al. (2004) developed an equity audit
process to help school leaders and other school members systematically examine summative
data, looking for equity of learning opportunities in their schools. More specifically, Skrla et
al. (2004) posited twelve indicators grouped into three categories for equity audits—namely,
teacher quality equity, programmatic equity, and achievement equity. High quality teachers are
key determinants of students’ opportunities to be academically successful (Skrla et al., 2004).
Yet students of color and students form low income backgrounds often have non-certified
teachers and or teachers with less experience and training. According to Skrla et al. (2004), if
children of color and children living in poverty get lower quality teachers than their Anglo
peers from middle and upper class neighborhoods, we cannot expect equitable achievement.
Furthermore, if the inequity in teacher quality is distributed across a school or district, the result
is likely to be a systemic inequity in achievement. Similar quality patterns can exist within
schools. In your school, do the more experienced teachers teach advanced placement courses?
Do least experienced teachers teach intervention classes?
Equity in the quality of programs is just as important as teacher quality (Skrla et al., 2004).
Skrla and colleagues recommend an audit of four key indicators of program quality:
gifted and talented education
Historically, students of color and students from low-income backgrounds are over-represented
in special education and under-represented in gifted/talented programs. In the equity audit, the
indicator for quality in special education and gifted talented programs is whether all student
groups are represented in reasonably proportionate percentages. With regards to bilingual
education, the question is whether students are being well served and not simply segregated
from the kind of quality instruction necessary to make academic progress. Students who are
routinely and consistently removed from classes for discipline are also denied equal access to
learning. In combination, teacher quality equity and programmatic equity contribute to
Work with your principal, PLC, and/or grade level team to conduct an equity audit, looking at data regarding
teacher quality, programmatic quality, bilingual education, and discipline. Add the resulting data to your Data
Wall. Interview your PLC members to gain an understanding of their perceptions about the resulting equity
data. Work with your team to develop plans to attain more equitable academic achievement in your school.
Equity audits require deep trust among staff members and instructional leaders who can
facilitate difficult conversations with regards to race, whiteness, language, and poverty.
Moreover, today’s instructional leaders must have strategies and analytical tools to help school
members get beyond deficit views and blaming external factors for achievement gaps.
See Chapter 2 for additional culturally responsive assessment strategies that help school
members move beyond deficit views of traditionally marginalized students. Summative data
provides instructional leaders with many understandings about what students have learned as
well as their opportunities for learning (teacher quality and programmatic quality. Yet
summative assessments happen too far away from instruction and other school practices to
make instructional adjustments or interventions during the learning process. For that, we need
Formative assessments (assessments for learning) provide information or feedback to modify
teaching and learning activities. According to Heritage, Kim, Vendlinski, and Herman (2009),
formative assessment is “a systematic process to continuously gather evidence and provide
feedback about learning while instruction is underway” (p. 24). Popham (2003) adds that
formative assessment is a planned process; it does not happen accidentally. Teachers who
regularly utilize formative assessments are better able to: (1) determine what curriculum
content students already know and to what degree during the instructional process; (2) decide
what minor modifications or major changes in instruction they need to make so that all students
can succeed in upcoming instruction and on subsequent assessments; (3) create appropriate
lessons and activities for groups of learners or individual students; and (4) inform students
about their current progress in order to help them set goals for improvement.
Common Formative Assessments
Ainsworth and Viegut (2006) recommend common formative assessments designed by teams
of teachers and then administered to students by each participating teacher periodically
throughout the academic school year. In particular, common formative assessments assess
student understanding of particular curriculum standards that the grade-level or department
educators are currently focusing on in their individual classrooms. Teachers collaboratively
score the assessments, analyze the results, and discuss ways to achieve improvements in
student learning on the next common formative assessment they will administer. In this way,
assessment informs decision-making during the instructional process. If the common formative
assessments are aligned to the large-scale assessments in terms of what students will need to
know and be able to do on those assessments, the formative assessment results will provide
valuable information regarding what students already know and what they yet need to learn in
order to do well on summative assessments. Using formative assessment results, educators can
adjust instruction to better prepare students for success on the large-scale, summative
assessments. Further, educators can use formative assessments to understand each child’s
learning approach, background knowledge, and any misconceptions that may negatively affect
their comprehension of material.
Instructional leaders/principals play a vital role in implementing common formative
assessment processes in their schools. They must look for creative ways to change daily
teaching schedules to promote to promote collaborative curriculum development, instructional
planning, and analysis of student progress. By freeing participating teachers to meet in
appropriate teams, administrators/instructional leaders provide teachers with the support
necessary to plan and align curriculum, instruction, and assessments. In sum, whether to regard
an assessment as either formative or summative depends on the assessment’s purpose and how
it is to be used.
Summative and formative assessments are integral to a comprehensive assessment system.
Further, instructional leaders/principals and teachers need to consider what they regularly
assess, what they do not regularly assess, and for what purpose. With many schools under
tremendous pressure to quickly raise standardized test scores, teachers and principals may
prioritize tested standards in terms of instruction and formative assessments to the exclusion of
promoting civic responsibility, inclusion, and social justice.
The next several subsections describe a comprehensive assessment system (summative and
formative) with components that inform a multi-dimensional curriculum (described in Chapter
3) and consider the issues identified in equity audits. When instructional leaders connect a
comprehensive assessment to a multi-dimensional curriculum, they have the potential to avoid
a narrow curriculum and limited decision-making identified in the research on NCLB (e.g.
Johnson & Johnson, 2005; Ylimaki, 2011).
Formative or Summative?
Decide if the following assessment examples are formative or summative:
1. The assessment is a final measure of how students performed on constructed response items on multiple
measures taught during the quarter.
2. The teacher uses the results from a unit test to inform instruction for the same students during the next
unit of study.
3. teacher provides students with the opportunity to revise and then improve their performance on a
particular assessment during the evaluation process.
4. Students complete their revisions and the final evaluation is determined.
Be prepared to share your responses.
The entire process begins with the policy-related curriculum (now common core) as well as
students’ funds of knowledge and then continues through each successive practice. Common
formative (school-based) assessments should be intentionally aligned to all of these standards.
Previously in many states, teachers needed to power or prioritize long lists of discrete state
standards. The Common Core Standards are relative ...
Purchase answer to see full attachment