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UC Berkeley Press Release

PACE explores accountability policy impacts on educators

– California's educators appreciate state efforts to improve student achievement and low-performing schools, but are frustrated by a lack of support and teaching resources for addressing achievement gaps, according to a new report and joint policy brief.

Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), a policy research center at the University of California, Berkeley, UC Davis and Stanford University, is presenting its research findings about the impacts of public school accountability policies today (Thursday, Feb. 26) at a news conference in Sacramento.

Joining PACE to present additional data on school accountability reform in California will be the American Institutes for Research and the Consortium for Policy Research in Education. These three independent research organizations will release a joint policy brief, discussing overlapping findings and recommendations.

State Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-Santa Clara, will attend today's news conference to comment on the reports.

PACE's full report and the joint policy brief will be released Friday, Feb. 27, at a Sacramento seminar for education policymakers.
"School accountability continues to dominate discussions of education among policymakers, educators and the community, and promises to be a critical issue in this year's election," said Elisabeth

Woody, director of PACE's Educator Responses to Accountability Project. "Yet, little is known about how teachers and school administrators are experiencing and responding to the state's efforts to improve education."

Woody said she hopes the study is a "first step" in the investigation and sharing of knowledge about how to improve schools and ensures high levels of accountability and student performance.

Researchers concluded that policymakers should continue to listen to educators and consider providing more focused support to the lowest-performing schools. They also said policymakers should support teachers' use of ongoing assessments and data to address inequities in student achievement.

These findings and policy recommendations come at a time of potential shifts in California's system of school accountability, as the state's testing and assessment program is up for reauthorization this year, and the new governor has proposed changes in public school funding.

PACE and the two other organizations investigating these issues have found that, while the policies are producing benefits, they also are having unintended, negative consequences.

For example, testing and test preparation are displacing other instructional activities. "There's so much that they expect you to do that it's science that doesn't get taught, art doesn't get taught," a teacher is quoted as saying in the PACE study. "The things that cause children to love school and learn on their own are being cut out."

Another teacher interviewed estimated that a month of each school year is spent in testing. "And our kids are in school for only eight months. So what is that? Twelve percent? And that is a long time that you cannot really be teaching them..."

Given teachers' time constraints, the PACE report says it is not surprising that they focus on teaching the subjects that form the basis for evaluating student, teacher and school performance.

The study also found another shortcoming of the state system: Annual testing is done late in the school year, with results unavailable until late summer. The delay prevents teachers from using those test scores to inform and modify instruction during the school year, it said.

Researchers did find that some schools are instituting their own measures for more timely monitoring of student performance and progress.

"We're using assessments in smaller increments to see student growth instead of, 'Oh, the next grade level, what do we do with them (now)?'" said a teacher in the PACE study. "And we're really trying to assess students and change our instruction while they're still in the classroom."

The researchers also report that educators are not always aware of the data available about how various student subgroups are performing, and do not always have the needed skills to analyze such information.

Researchers suggest that state and district leaders fund professional development to provide teachers with data analysis skills and ways to best use student achievement data in the classroom.

PACE also found that California's teachers feel unfairly burdened with the responsibility of guaranteeing that students meet standards and improve achievement.

"Teachers felt they were usually the ones blamed for any occurrences of low performance at their schools," says the study. "They advocated instead for a more holistic approach to student achievement, pointing out that administrators, parents and students also play a role in a school's successes or failures."

The role of principals and district officials in school accountability is largely overlooked, researchers across the three organizations found.

lthough state policies hold schools rather than districts directly accountable for meeting targets, researchers discovered that districts determine how those policies are implemented, and often implement additional measures of their own, including district assessments and professional development. The American Institutes for Research found that district officials played a key role in deciding which schools would enter the state's program to assist low-performing schools.

PACE, the American Institutes for Research, and the Consortium for Policy Research in Education are among the first research organizations in California to look at how accountability reforms affect classroom teaching, educators' sense of professionalism, and the shifting role of the district in navigating new mandates.

During the 2002-2003 school year, their researchers interviewed more than 250 teachers, principals and district administrators to see how they are experiencing and responding to major school accountability reforms implemented since 1999. The Public Schools Accountability Act of 1999 created a system of new curriculum standards, statewide testing, and rewards and sanctions. In the past two years, the state's schools have also seen additional layers of reporting and sanctions required by federal No Child Left Behind legislation.