Teacher Accountability as Formative Assessment

Teacher Accountability as Formative Assessment:
Findings from the National Center on Scaling Up Effective Schools
J. Edward Guthrie (Vanderbilt), Christopher Harrison (UNC-Chapel Hill), Marisa Cannata (Vanderbilt)
Based on teacher interviews, high value-added (HVA) high schools exhibit dialogic relationships between teachers and administrators.
By contrast, teachers in low value-added (LVA) schools feel the weight of outcome-based performance accountability without support or
feedback from administrators. This pattern is explored in terms of how accountability practices described as present in the HVA schools
and absent in the LVA schools fit a profile of formative assessment.
The hallmark of “new accountability” is a focus on
student learning outcomes, yet evidence suggests that
teachers—much like their students—improve in response
to feedback and incentives based on assessment of
processes and practices (formative), but not to
incentives based on assessments of end results
(summative). In light of this, we might expect to find
that schools that are more effective in increasing student
achievement exercise internal accountability practices
patterned after a model of formative assessment.
We focus in this study on school-level accountability
practices and on assessment conceptualized as the full
suite of administrator-teacher performance interactions
(of which evaluation would comprise a subset). The
effectiveness of building-based accountability structures
and practices is the most relevant discussion for school
personnel who cannot control district- or state-level
policy and for whom staff development is a more
politically and economically viable option than staff
Research Question
How do policies and practices related to teacher
performance accountability differ between high and low
value-added high schools?
Method & Sample
Data sample consists of semi-structured interviews with
administrators, teachers, and staff at a total of eight
high schools (two districts, each with two HVA and two
LVA schools selected). Schools were chosen for a
combination of contrast in value-added performance and
similarity in student demographic composition.
Data were collected during multiple week-long visits to
each school during the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school
years. These data were analyzed through an iterative
coding process incorporating directed and summative
content analysis.
Teachers describe accountability practices in their schools
District A
District B
Low Value-Added
High Value-Added
Formative observations and
feedback are infrequent,
leading teachers to either
question or dismiss later
summative assessments as
irrelevant or invalid.
Two-way communication
between administrators and
teachers creates an
environment of trust in which
teachers are willing to accept
performance feedback as well
as consequences for poor
Teachers do not receive
regular feedback, even when
observations were frequent,
leading to frustration and
Teachers report receiving
feedback when observations
occur, though these are less
frequent than in LVA schools.
“I have no idea what (classroom
observers) thought, whatsoever.
Zero. Nothing. I am not expecting
to get anything, because I was told
there will be nothing in writing.
They will have a general debriefing,
in general, about the school, and I
will somehow get that information
passed down to me …But, how I
am doing, in their eyes? I have no
“He’s given good feedback but then
he gives me one question, like
maybe you should do this better or
how come you did this instead of
this, and so I get positive feedback,
and then I get a little bit of negative
feedback. The negative feedback is
very useful.”
Accountability for teacher performance in high value-added schools shows
characteristics of formative assessment. In the schools with the highest
value-added and strongest culture of performance accountability, there exist
relationships of trust and support fostered by dialogic communication
between administrators and teachers.
In the low value-added schools, accountability regimes have the
characteristics of summative assessment, with all emphasis placed on oncea-year performance reviews. Observation and feedback is less consistent
and teachers consider it irrelevant or invalid. Questions over the significance
and validity of assessments was most common at schools that relied on
formal PDAs to offer feedback to teachers.