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5 questions to ask when rethinking accountability systems

Superintendent of a large school district discusses the questions leadership and school boards should be asking when considering accountability.

I have a very interesting job. As an education correspondent, I conduct interviews with many of the leading voices in education. Rarely are the interviewees at a loss for words. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. David Vroonland, superintendent at Mesquite Independent School District in Texas. Mesquite ISD is a larger district, with 47 schools and over 40,000 students.

By all accounts, Mesquite is a successful and well-run district. It’s student population is diverse, with 56 percent Hispanic, 25 percent African American and 15 percent Caucasian. More than half their teachers hold a Master’s degree or higher, and their teacher turnover rate is an ultra-low 9.7 percent.

It’s telling that on their district website’s About Us page, Accountability holds the top position, and not just because it happens to fall in alphabetical order. Dave is a member of TPAC, the Texas Performance Assessment Consortium. He speaks out about assessment, and actively looks for better ways to understand community-based accountability systems.

I asked Dave when looking at accountability systems, what questions district leaders should be asking themselves, their leadership teams and their school boards. He paused. Collected his thoughts and shared, from my perspective, a very transparent and raw account of how complex issues are tackled by district-level thought leaders.

According to Dave, here are five questions you should be asking (and why):

1. What do you value? If you didn’t have your current system of testing, what would you value in terms of the experience of your children? Is the current system doing that for them?

2. How is the current system working? Here is a quick example: Look at your graduates, and say, I want my graduates better able to communicate, collaborate and express their understanding of a problem and how to solve it, which in the business world is very valuable.

We had a young lady that graduated from my previous district and went to interview for an accounting position at an oil company. They didn’t ask her a single question about accounting.

They wanted to know how she could solve a problem, what processes she would use and they presented her with a variety of different problems. That’s what businesses are looking for today. Does the current system do anything to support improvement in those areas?

A lot of districts are doing graduate profiles. If you’re looking at a graduate profile, how is the accountability system helping or hindering your effort to move kids along that profile? I would argue that it [accountability system] is creating a lot of harm.

You have to evaluate that. You need to be courageous, because you went into this business to serve young people. If you are asking yourself these questions and you’re not getting the answers you are looking for, you should get frustrated, and then you should pursue other avenues to make sure your children are getting educated in the way they should be educated.

(Next page: 3 more accountability questions to consider)

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