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Accountability must be a two-way street

With all the focus on accountability at the DOE – progress reports, data collection, learning environment surveys, quality reviews, and more – I find myself frustrated at the gaps in timely, useful data made available to the public by the DOE. Accountability has to go in both directions – teachers, parents, and all citizens should have access to data quickly, presented in ways that allow independent analysis.

With mayoral control up for renewal in the spring, with new initiatives such as the “Million” motivation plan, with increasing emphasis on standardized tests and regular interim assessments, with data collected from the Learning Environment Surveys being used to judge schools, we have more reasons than ever to want to see for ourselves whether DOE policies and practices have been fair and effective.

Yet data is not easy to find.

We are eagerly waiting for the DOE’s promised (in the 2008 Results Presentation) Learning Environment Survey web tool that will allow members of the public to create unique reports. There are a lot of interesting questions to ask about the survey results, but as the information is currently organized (in individual school reports and a summary presentation), we cannot ask those questions.

We are eagerly waiting for high school graduation data – for the class of 2007 – which will allow us to evaluate the impact of state and city policies on high school completion rates. How do small schools compare to large? What effect does increased high-stakes testing have on high school graduation rates? Are there gaps in high school completion between different sub-groups of students? Until we get up-to-date data, we cannot ask those questions, either.

Meanwhile, despite all the focus on testing, up-to-date exam results for the New York State Science and Social Studies exams are either not available or very well hidden (these subjects aren’t even listed on the DOE’s Test Results page). This was a source of continuous frustration for me as a teacher, trying to adjust my school’s program to take into account our strengths and weaknesses on these exams. A new curriculum is being rolled out in Science, and a new Scope & Sequence in Social Studies, so information about how our students are performing is more important than ever.

Note to the DOE: It’s time to make accountability truly a two-way street.

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