Andy Hargreaves and Henry Braun, Boston College
The drive to enhance learning outcomes has assumed increasing salience over the lastthree decades. These outcomes include both high levels of tested achievement for allstudents and eliminating gaps in achievement among different sub-populations (raisingthe bar and closing the gap). This policy brief examines policies and practices concerningthe use of data to inform school improvement strategies and to provide information foraccountability. We term this twin-pronged movement, data-driven improvement andaccountability (DDIA). Although educational accountability is meant to contribute to improvement, there areoften tensions and sometimes direct conflicts between the twin purposes of improvementand accountability. These are most likely to be resolved when there is collaborativeinvolvement in data collection and analysis, collective responsibility for improvement, anda consensus that the indicators and metrics involved in DDIA are accurate, meaningful,fair, broad and balanced. When these conditions are absent, improvement efforts andoutcomes-based accountability can work at cross-purposes, resulting in distraction fromcore purposes, gaming of the system and even outright corruption and cheating. This isparticularly the case when test-based accountability mandates punitive consequences forfailing to meet numerical targets that have been determined arbitrarily and imposedhierarchically.Data that are timely and useful in terms of providing feedback that enables teachers,schools and systems to act and intervene to raise performance or remedy problems areessential to enhancing teaching effectiveness and to addressing systemic improvement atall levels. At the same time, the demands of public accountability require transparency with respect to operations and outcomes, and this calls for data that are relevant, accurateand accessible to public interpretation. Data that are not relevant skew the focus of accountability. Data that are inaccurate undermine the credibility of accountability. Anddata that are incomprehensible betray the intent of public accountability. Good data andgood practices of data use not only are essential to ensuring improvement in the face of accountability, but also are integral to the pursuit of constructive accountability.Data-driven improvement and accountability can lead either to greater quality, equity andintegrity, or to deterioration of services and distraction from core purposes. The questionaddressed by this brief is what factors and forces can lead DDIA to generate more positiveand fewer negative outcomes in relation to both improvement and accountability.