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Accountability Center Planned in N.C.

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A coalition of public-policy and education leaders in North Carolina has established a new center to study and develop systems for making schools accountable for improvements in student performance.

The new Center for School Accountability, to be housed at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, is expected to serve as a national clearinghouse for information on ways to measure performance and report data to the public and policymakers.

In addition, the center will also choose schools in the state to act as "test tubes" in the development of new accountability systems, according to John Dornan, president of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, a group of business executives and educators that teamed up with the university to create the new center.

Policymakers in North Carolina and elsewhere "are insisting on some stronger correlation between student outcomes and funding and flexibility," Mr. Dornan said. "We are also wrestling with what is a fair way to measure school effectiveness."

"It would be good, not only in North Carolina, but beyond, to combine our resources with those of a research university," he continued, ''to try to come up with ways of developing accountability in schools.''

"It is important for educators to work together to come up with different models of accountability," added Edward Uprichard, dean of the school of education at uncg "In the past, models were legislated down from the top."

By contrast, he said, the center will create "models school systems can have an ownership in."

Roy Forbes, the director of the new center, said that a top priority will be to improve methods of reporting data on school performance. Currently, he said, such "report cards" tend to be limited to achievement-test results.

In addition, he said, the center is interested in working with measurement experts on improvements in assessment programs that ensure they gauge performance accurately.

"The methods we have have a lot of holes," said Mr. Forbes, who served as director of the National Assessment of Educational Progress from 1975 to 1981. "We tend to test things that are easy to test."

Mr. Dornan stressed that measures of school effectiveness must include a "blend" of factors that include test scores as well as measures of student, teacher, and parent satisfaction with schools.

"We're trying to see if we can reach a critical mass of data," he said, "that will be useful to educators and also satisfy the needs of policymakers who are asked to give more funding."

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