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SECTION 4 Accountability for Student Learning

April 21, 2021
Education Review main art Web

Executive Summary
SECTION 1: Long Term Vision
SECTION 2: Student Learning
SECTION 3: Teaching

SECTION 4: Accountability for Student Learning
SECTION 5: Governance
SECTION 6: Funding
Winnipeg School Division’s Recommendations

Appendix A
Appendix B

In addressing the accountability systems in the K to 12 education system, it is important that policymakers seek out the empirical evidence that is available to them, not only from the education field, but from social psychology and behavioural economics as well. This literature can help identify the different forms of accountability, mechanisms and conditions, which lead to better educational outcomes. Additionally, it can shed light on the conditions where accountability can lead to worse outcomes.

Accountability can have both intended and unintended positive and negative effects depending on the form and context.44 Consequently, policymakers need to carefully consider the trade-offs with each option.

Examples of accountability options are:

  • Outcome-based accountability – (ie.) standardized assessments is only one of the multiple forms of accountability.
  • Rule-based accountability; (ie.) contracts that outline class size and working conditions.
  • Professional accountability; (ie.) professional reviews, licensing or observation by supervisors.

Each form of accountability invokes different motivational mechanisms, meaning in the context of the K to 12 education system, standardized assessments are only one of the tools available. Accordingly, accountability in student learning needs to reflect more than the narrow interpretation of outcome-based accountability mechanisms that have been used in the past. Focusing on limited data generated by provincial assessments to support decisions can be dangerous if it does not capture the complexity of the issues that schools and students are facing.

For example, value-added assessment data has shown that inner city schools are often the schools that are maximizing the annual achievement growth of their students. Although the overall performance at the school level may appear unremarkable, these schools are remarkable in the sense that they are adding the greatest educational value to each student.

Achievement shouldn’t only be regarded through the use of tests and assessments. It is important that students are measured on what we value rather than valuing what we can measure easily.

What stronger accountability looks like

Accountability systems need to be comprehensive. The full range of education goals need to be included in order to address the full range of issues – and simply focusing on a few subject areas will restrict the continuous improvement that we are pursuing.

No single form of accountability can fully serve all the different stakeholders (students, parents and the public) or address all the components in the education system. Using several different forms of accountability jointly, however, can support the continuous improvement of student learning. Using multiple forms of accountability can also play to the advantages of each form while minimizing their disadvantages.

Recommendation 22: That the Province of Manitoba and education partners use a holistic approach for accountability which emphasizes the use of multiple accountability mechanisms moving forward and to provide contextual information alongside the reporting and evaluation of accountability tools. 

What Winnipeg School Division is doing

WSD employs accountability in several forms and has a history of using outcome-based accountability tools. WSD developed the early assessment program and the comprehensive assessment program in the 1990’s and continues to use system wide assessment programs to make decisions. WSD has extensive experience in assessment and data collection – and harnessing the data to develop more effective student learning environments.

WSD has also developed and published a strategic plan that sets out measurable objectives relating to student learning. Additionally, WSD has developed a framework for continuous improvement that developed through collaboration with school division leaders and other provincial education partners in an effort to align school division planning and reporting with provincial priorities. The framework embeds accountability in planning and reporting.

Importantly, WSD collects more than the student achievement data that is obtained through assessment programs and reported in its continuous improvement framework. WSD also secures an abundance of qualitative data from students, parents, guardians and the community. Each year, students voluntarily respond to Our School Survey – an online survey that allows them to give their feedback and share their voice on their experiences at school, their school environment, and any school improvement programs. The survey poses questions on several topics, including emotional and social well-being, physical health and behaviours and attitudes linked to student success. The open-ended questions encourage students to give their thoughts and feedback. Recently graduated students have also been surveyed in the past, and WSD is trying to redevelop that initiative.

Parents/Guardians and the community are also surveyed with WSD requesting feedback on several topics, including but not limited to the perception of WSD education, priorities for WSD, priorities for school tax spending, property taxes, and communication with WSD residents. Public meetings are also held to collect feedback from the WSD community. WSD is reaching out to students, parents, and community members more than ever.

Furthermore, WSD makes significant efforts in engaging and educating parents. A division-wide Parent Education Committee, composed of administrative representatives from each district, program lead teachers, teachers, volunteer coordinators, and parents, meets several times a year to develop a division plan to promote parent involvement in schools. The objectives of the committee are to help parents develop skills; to help parents become more involved in the education of their children; and to help parents and schools develop positive long-term relationships. The committee coordinates workshops for parents on a variety of topics from bullying and addiction awareness to early childhood development, landlord/tenant issues and topics relevant to newcomers and new Canadian parents. Other WSD initiatives include, but are not limited to, nursery bags for new students, lending libraries and WRHA Access nurses.

WSD Continuous Improvement Plan

WSD is working hard to engage and connect different educational partners to strengthen the shared accountability and improve the K to 12 education system and it is leading to improved student achievement. (See Appendix A)

WSD’s continuous improvement framework sets out measurable targets relating to student learning. Key areas requiring attention are identified and the strategies to address them are described. WSD is committed to the development of a process for the establishment of measurable targets, at the level of both the school, and the division as a whole, relative to divisional and provincial priorities and assessment.

From 2009 to 2017, Winnipeg School Division saw an overall 50.8 percent increase in Grade 3 Reading scores (according to the Provincial Assessment for Grade 3 reading), while the overall provincial score increased by only 10.8 percent. Breaking down WSD data further, we see significant gains across the board, with a notable 62.6 percent increase for Indigenous students, and 170.1 percent increase in achievement for children in care.

In the same time period, WSD scores for Grade 3 numeracy increased 132.7 percent, while provincial scores grew by just 35.9 percent. All groups, disaggregated, saw increases over greater than 100 percent, with our Indigenous students’ scores increasing by 197.6 percent, and our children in care scores growing by 469.8 percent. This reflects the commitment of WSD to consider disaggregated data and implement interventions accordingly.

Provincially, attainment rates for Grade 9 Mathematics rose by 3.2 percent over the same time period as above, and WSD saw an increase of 13.8 percent. Once again, of note, however, are the increases for Indigenous students (30.8 percent) and children in care (46.1 percent). Grade 9 Mathematics has long since been a difficult course – a gatekeeper to future success – for many students. Only after attaining credit in Grade 9 Mathematics can students elect to take a mathematics course better suited to their ability.

Increasing accountability and public expectations for access to student achievement data
WSD acknowledges and supports the use and distribution of assessment data as an accountability measure, however, it should be accompanied by all relevant information. Standardized outcome-based testing is constructed to ignore external factors affecting students. Research has shown that external factors including poverty, parental education, mental, physical and emotional health can account for up to 50 percent of student achievement. Consequently, providing context is very important. Including socioeconomic information, for example, in these conversations provides a lot of insight and may help in soliciting more holistic efforts to address the various problems


Accountability for student learning cannot be isolated to the educational components needed to support student success. Educational outcomes are affected by many factors outside the control of the school system. Students may find it much more difficult to succeed academically if they and their families are facing the housing, health, financial and other challenges associated with poverty. The vast array of supports and resources needed to support students need to be acknowledged, and provided in order to foster the success of students.

As identified by the Auditor General of Manitoba the Department of Education (2016) “need[s] to more systematically identify the key barriers to student success and the initiatives to overcome the barriers”. Moreover, the Department failed to track important indicators for Indigenous students, including student attendance and survey results that were designed to assess how safe, respected and support students felt at school. As highlighted by the Auditor General of Manitoba – it is important that accountability and reporting include multiple dimensions.45

Recommendation 23: That WSD assist the Province of Manitoba to develop accountability tools that report on the external factors that impact student learning across the province.

Responsibility for student achievement

As indicated in the public consultation document “The primary function of an education system is student learning, achievement and well-being,” so schools have a primary role in organizing themselves and their resources to make this happen.46 Additionally, the document includes that “schools have a key role to address the inequities that socioeconomic status and other factors place on students.”47

Having the schools respond to growing inequities alongside growing provincial initiatives to address the inequities at their root would be much more effective. Just as schools take responsibility for addressing the educational needs of their students the provincial government needs to do its part by addressing the socioeconomic issues impacting student learning.

The responsibilities for students, parents and guardians, schools, administration and the government must be clarified. Having clarity on the roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder is essential.48

Recommendation 24: That the Province of Manitoba clearly identify the responsibilities of all stakeholders in the K to 12 education system. Further, that collaborative relationships are fostered with stakeholders to provide more leadership in guiding and coordinating the efforts of achieving student success. 

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