Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Input vs Output: Rethink Accountability

In his book Catching Up or Leading the Way,Yong Zhao presents a provocative alternative to high stakes, test and punish, output measuring accountability:

Expanding the definition of success of schools should not be limited to only outcome measures, because many factors affect student learning. How well students perform on a math test at a given time is affected by their own ability and efforts, their family environmnent, their peers, and their previous math learning experiences in addition to their current teachers and math learning. It is simply misleading and worng to use students' performance on tests to judge the degree of a school's success. A mnore just and useful way to judge the quality of schools is to assess the quality of input and hold schools accountable for providing the best educational environment for all students.

An input-oriented accountability system measures the quality of schools by looking at the quality of educational resources and opportunities they provide to each student. Rather than holding schools accountable for raising test scores, which is partly beyond the control of schools and teachers, we can hold schools accountable for ensuring that all students have the same high-quality educational opportunities.

Here is a sample of indicators of the quality of a school in terms of input:

  • Physical Environment: Does the school provide safe, clean, and inspiring physical environment?
  • Facilities: Does the school provide adequate facilities to support learning and development of diverse talents?
  • Teachers: Does the school have a staff that is highly qualified and motivated  to help students learn?
  • Curriculum: Does the school impliment a broad and rigorous curriculum relevent to help students learn?
  • Leadership: Does the school have strong leadership that inspires teachers and students to achieve their best?
  • Innovation: Does the school encourage and support teacher innovation?
  • Opportunities to be different: Does the school make arrangements to enable students who have different talents to pursue them?
I've written about our current narrow measures of learning, and Yong Zhao's list of quality indicators align well with what caring adults and professional educators know to be important.

For more on Yong Zhao's ideas on rethinking accountability, listen to this interview.


  1. Would the inability of a teacher to properly proof his/her writing to ensure there are no typographical errors be a measure of his/her qualifications?

  2. I would add teacher instruction as an input

  3. @anonymous: Spelling and typos are dangerous output measurements. They have become uber important perhaps only because they are easily measurable.

    Becareful not to place so much emphasis on spelling or typos or the alternative might be not to write at all... that would be a shame, wouldn't it?

  4. I wonder what it says about a teacher who only comments on typocgraphical errors?

  5. The environment in which the children function mold them over time. The educational environment being just as important as the home environment impact children's outcome. What you say makes perfect sense. We need to change the paradigm in education.

  6. Also, for a summary of maybe even most of what's in the book, this presentation by Yong Zhao might be useful:

    OK, so it's 2 hours and 44 minutes. But if you prefer watching that to buying and reading the book, there it is.

    In regards to typographical errors...*eyeroll*...I think it's more important to get a message out, than to spend the time that most teachers don't have to proof-read and "perfectly" organize every post. Personally, I've never had a problem understanding Joe's message.


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