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Accountability—the idea of holding schools, districts, educators, and students responsible for results—has become the most-recent watchword in education. In more and more states and districts, policymakers are moving to reward achievement and punish failure in schools, in an effort to ensure that children are getting a good education and that tax dollars aren’t being wasted.

It’s been more than a decade since the article containing the above quote was published in Education Week.

Eleven years.

Is it true? Has accountability “ensured” that students are getting a good education?

A while back a Twitter chat was hosted by Dr. Mary Howard, Jenn Hayhurst and Amy Brennan. The topic for the evening’s discussion was Accountability vs. Responsibility. For me, the subject (and the timing) could not have been more perfect.

The first question up for discussion in the chat last week: How do you distinguish responsibility from accountability and how does this impact your practices?

The distinct difference between the two is that responsibility is about taking complete ownership for facilitating learning for every student (and I mean EVERY) inside the classroom. Accountability is about the willingness to hold to an agreement or expectations from people in education and policymaking outside the classroom.

February is a tough month for teachers. We’re all ready for an end to winter weather. Spring break is right around the corner. This is precisely the time for educators to get alone for at least ten minutes and reflect on personal and professional beliefs about learning. Because as much time as we spend on instructional planning based on standards and the assessed curriculum it really is, in the end, about the learning.

The question that drives me: What am I responsible for in regard to student learning? That question is the powerful reflection piece that rescues me from this current age of obsessive accountability.

Reflect png
Powerful learning happens when kids:

  • engage in content that is meaningful, relevant and engaging.
  • see their teacher model simple, uncomplicated strategies for mastering difficult concepts. And they have ample time in every school day to perfect those strategies.
  • are trusted to be the brilliant people that they are and so they are given the gift of choice.
  • get to take part in a classroom community that cares and cheers them on when they succeed AND when they fail.
  • read (a lot), write (a lot), talk (a lot) and talk some more.
  • observe the unbridled passion that drives the adult in the room to read and write and talk about books.

I know what I’m responsible for in regard to student learning and so the management of my classroom and the instructional planning is driven by what I believe about the learning.

                                                But what about accountability?

I am willing to hold myself accountable to the requirements set forth by those in education reform, BUT…and it’s a big BUT–

                               Responsibility trumps accountability.

I will do everything in my power as an educator to make sure that students are successful as defined by the “results”, but the overwhelming priority in the classroom is student learning. I judge myself at the end of each school year by the amount (and quality) of authentic learning that took place, NOT by the endless rows and columns of colored numbers on spreadsheets.

I have a choice about my approach to the dreaded assessment. I can:

  • Shake my fist at the establishment who created this nonsense and NEVER allow anything even remotely resembling test-prep to be put into the hands of my kids.
  • Choose total sell-out. I can buy every test prep book or game or technology tool available and prep, prep, prep. Every day. All day long.
  • Be totally committed to what is best for kids and how they learn, but on occasion build a bridge (authentically) to the assessment for my students who struggle to generalize and transfer.

I choose total commitment to kids and what is best for them. When the results are in and I look closely at percentages, I reflect on ways in which I can adjust instruction so the bridge from authentic learning to performance on a standardized assessment is made easier for my students. I know what I am responsible for. I am responsible for the quality of learning in my classroom. And I am accountable to plan instruction, based on standards, that allows students to show what they know on the day of the test.

So, who wins when it’s responsibility vs. accountability?

Responsibility is winner winner chicken dinner.

Every. Single. Time.