The Evolution and Nature of School Accountability in the Singapore Education System

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Educ Asse Eval Acc (2010) 22:275–292 DOI 10.1007/s11092-010-9105-z

The evolution and nature of school accountability in the Singapore education system Pak Tee Ng

Received: 10 April 2010 / Accepted: 12 August 2010 / Published online: 19 August 2010 # Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Abstract This paper describes and examines the nature and evolution of school accountability in the Singapore Education System. In particular, the different facets of school accountability are examined through a theoretical framework comprising four relatively distinct concepts of accountability as performance reporting; as a technical process; as a political process; and as an institutional process. This paper also examines the issues and challenges faced by schools as they respond to the demands of school accountability. Keywords School accountability . Policy . Performance indicators . Quality assurance

1 Introduction: School accountability In many educational systems, different stakeholders of schools demand schools to be accountable, each in their own way. School accountability is therefore a term that seems to have multiple meanings. Indeed, there are different ways in which it can be defined, presented or understood. For example, Stecher and Kirby (2004, p. 22) referred to it as “the practice of holding educational systems responsible for the quality of their products—students’ knowledge, skills, and behaviours”. Wöbmann et al. (2007, p. 24) referred to it as “all devices that attach consequences to measured educational achievement”. Indeed, as Levin (1974, p. 363) opined: Some authors assert that the provision of information on the performance of schools constitutes accountability. Others see accountability as a matter of redesigning the structures by which education is governed. In some cases accountability is defined as a specific approach to education such as performance contracting or educational vouchers, while in others accountability is referred to as P. T. Ng (*) National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, 1, Nanyang Walk, Singapore 637616, Republic of Singapore e-mail: paktee.ng@nie.edu.sg

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a part of all educational systems. It is common to hear that statewide testing programs as well as recent state legislation which would enable schools to terminate the appointments of “poor” teachers represent a response to the need for accountability. Given the many ways of understanding this concept, Linn (2003) argued that true accountability was a shared responsibility for improving education, not only among educators and students, but also administrators, policymakers, parents, and educational researchers. There are also many models of school accountability. For example, Normore’s (2004) model identified the following approaches of accountability: market, decentralized, political, legal, bureaucratic and moral accountability. Carlson’s (2002) model essentially asked “is this a good school?” and “is the school getting better?”. In general, researchers have delineated the typologies of accountability, noting differences among them. Literature in the field generally tries to answer the question of the nature of school accountability with respect to who is holding whom accountable and for what. Generally, it is assumed that the goal of school accountability and its associated accountability-based interventions is to improve teaching and learning (Adams and Kirst 1999; Darling-Hammond and Ascher 1991; O’Day and Smith 1993; O’Reilly 1996). Some researchers have also examined this issue from a wider political perspective. In a number of countries, government agencies are held accountable for public spending and the services provided with such resources (eg. Atkinson 2005; Mante and O’Brien 2002). School accountability is but an aspect of this higher governmental accountability, which holds policy makers accountable through evaluating their...
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