Standards-based educational accountability and at-risk schools: Implications for teacher empowerment for effective practice



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The standards-based educational accountability and its corollary quality assurance practices have increasingly been integrated in education in recent years. This development has however been criticized as having unintended negative consequences on learning. Studies have indicated that its reliance on assessments that are primarily defined by testing seem to establish a system of rewards and sanctions in schools. As a consequence, the standards disadvantaged underserved learners, therefore, negating its own objective to improve the achievement of all learners. Yet there is a dearth of information on the extent of the effect of the standards on teaching and learning in less privileged schools. It is also not clear how the conditions of the less privileged schools are affected by the standards and vice-versa.
This phenomenological study, therefore, investigated the lived experiences of educators in at-risk schools with the standards-based accountability with a view to examining the effects of performativity as espoused by accountability on effective teaching. The study also examined the effect of the conditions of production and existence of at-risk schools on teaching and learning with a view to exploring ways of maximizing the utility of the standards in such schools while strengthening effective teaching. Data were collected through interviews, classroom observations and documents and records. The results of the study show that the standards as construed and practiced were at cross-purpose with the teaching-learning realities in at-risk schools. As a result, educators in at-risk schools are struggling with the standards and are indifferent to its full domestication. The study findings further point to several mitigating factors within at-risk schools that are largely overlooked by the standards yet they were significant in determining the performance of the learners. Particularly, the conditions of production and existence of at-risk schools have not been adequately addressed so as to ascribe performance entirely to teaching. Where effort to help the schools has been initiated, it has not been necessarily geared towards improving learning but performance of the schools to either gain or retain “recognized status” in the accountability ratings. The study concludes that for educational accountability to meet its broader objective of enhancing the learning and achievement of all learners there is need to reconceptualize the standards so as to reflect all overarching factors that affect teaching and learning.



Educational accountability, Teacher empowerment, Standards and education