Whenever you hear a politician speak about education, (usually a sentence or two before they move on to other agendas) you are likely to hear the word. When they speak of accountability, it is usually in the context of students’ performance on standardized tests. Educators are a diverse group, but it’s hard to find an educator who thinks standardized tests are a good measure of what they are doing in their classrooms and what students are learning. It can provide some helpful insight, but it is by no means a comprehensive look at the performance of a student, class, teacher, or school. No Child Left Behind ushered in an unprecedented emphasis on these tests and although the politicians and initiative name has changed (Race to the Top), the focus remains the same. Using one high stakes test to judge the performance of an entire school is frustrating, wrong, and unfair.
Although we as educators do a lot of complaining about this situation, what would our ideal alternative look like? I doubt any of us would be opposed in principle to being held accountable for the learning of our students. Seeing that light go on in students who have learned something new is what we live for as educators. But how would we measure it? How would it be reported? What is clear evidence that one teacher or school is performing at an acceptable level and another is not?
The difficult part is that if we are being honest, there is no perfect system to judge teacher or school performance, but we can do better than what is currently in place. We all should take responsibility for the learning of our students, but we should also be given the opportunity to show how students perform on a variety of rich tasks that look at the whole student. No one test can accurately show all that is happening in our schools. I wish it was possible to accurately judge the performance of a teacher or school by giving one test a couple of weeks out of the school year (it would sure be convenient), but it’s not. We as educators are happy to show our local communities all the incredible things our students are doing. We just need the opportunity and someone willing to take the time to really see.
How would you propose schools to be held accountable for learning? If we want to see a change in policy, we need to start spending more time coming up with viable alternatives!