Assessments and Accountability

For more than two decades, punitive test-based accountability—the attempt to use large-scale assessments to identify struggling students and poorly performing teachers and schools—has failed to improve student performance or ensure equity in the distribution of educational resources and services, and has eclipsed by far any parallel efforts to strengthen teaching and learning. Policymakers have tried to “reform” our schools on the cheap with “turnaround” strategies that substitute test scores for student and teacher supports, fire teachers and close schools, and that irresponsibly hand over public schools to privatizers and other groups eager to make a quick buck off the backs of struggling children, instead of providing them with the resources and opportunities these students need to succeed.

Austerity budgets, deprofessionalization and privatization attacks have created polarizing, unhealthy and ineffective competition, and wrong-headed “incentives” among states and districts for scarce dollars. The very purpose of public education and the joy of both teaching and learning are now at risk because policymakers perversely attempt to capture—and evaluate—everything about teaching and learning with testing. States and local school districts continue to use fundamentally flawed data methodologies such as value-added measures (VAM) and student growth percentiles that research shows should not be used for high-stakes decisions. We must move away from “test-and-punish” systems to accountability systems that “support and improve.”

New Accountability

“Support-and-improve” accountability systems depend on three crucial areas: meaningful student learning, adequate resources and educators' professional capacity. They are transparent and readily understandable by teachers, families and the broader public; they engage a broad cross section of the school stakeholders in planning and implementing accountability policies and strategies that are tailored to each school and district’s unique context. New accountability systems should be designed to enhance learning environments that ensure development of higher-order thinking and performance skills students need, improve curriculum and increase teacher efficacy. The system itself should be continuously improved, incorporating feedback from parents, teachers and students.

Improvement of schooling cannot take place without the recognition of teacher professionalism and the engagement of teachers in developing policies for improving equity and excellence in our schools.

Accountability should rest collectively both with individual educators and with administrators in the schools, districts and state agencies that recruit, hire, assign, support and evaluate them.

Policymakers must be responsible for appropriating the necessary funding for implementing the new accountability system. Administrators must be responsible for distributing the funds equitably and for creating a collaborative environment that includes teachers in decision-making about the curriculum, the assessments and the professional development necessary for successful implementation. All education stakeholders must be responsible for wisely using the resources—e.g., enriched and engaging curriculum, well-prepared teachers, safe and orderly schools, teaching supplies, computers and other technology—necessary to meet student needs and to achieve both equity and excellence for all students.