Education Opinion

Evidence-Based Reform and Test-Based Accountability Are Not the Same

By Robert Slavin — April 12, 2012 2 min read

Among the many objections I sometimes hear to the concept of evidence-based reform in education is a concern that buying into evidence entails buying into stodgy, boring, top-down instruction. I think these concerns carry over from concerns about instruction driven by standardized testing and accountability. But evidence-based education and test-driven education are very different.

Evidence (and evidence-based reform) are entirely neutral on the nature of teaching. Whatever works is what is valued. The distinction between teaching driven by accountability and teaching informed by evidence is crucial. Using test scores to evaluate teachers and schools, at least as defined by NCLB, runs the risk of focusing teachers on a narrow band of reading and math skills, and school and district leaders often try to improve performance by “alignment,” trying to get teachers to spend more time on the skills and knowledge likely to be assessed. In contrast, evidence-based policies have no such limitations. If instructional methods have been found to be effective in high-quality research on measures that are valued, then teachers may be encouraged to use these strategies. For example, even if writing, science, and social studies are not part of a given accountability scheme, teachers can be encouraged and assisted to use them anyway. This is particularly important to improve practices in areas or grade levels not assessed, but even in areas that are assessed, evidence shifts the focus of reform from curriculum alignment to professional development and adoption of proven strategies, including innovative materials, software, and strategies.

Given the likely dominance of accountability strategies in educational policies for a long time to come, evidence-based reform provides a crucial means of broadening favored strategies. If developers and researchers can identify methods of improving achievement beyond curriculum alignment, then this offers solid means of confronting the widespread belief that alignment is the best means of improving performance on accountability measures, a belief as central to the theory of action behind Common Core as to that behind NCLB.

In actual fact, proven programs in areas such as math and reading do not resemble boring, top-down, alignment-driven teaching. Instead, proven programs tend to emphasize engagement of students with content. Examples include cooperative learning, tutoring, and teaching of metacognitive strategies. None of these are boring teaching methods that put students in passive roles. The fact is, boring doesn’t work. Stodgy, teacher-directed teaching doesn’t work. Embracing evidence embraces a diversity of approaches and moves our field forward, building on the strengths of educators rather than micromanaging them, remaining open to anything that makes a difference on any valued measure.

The opinions expressed in Sputnik are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: January 13, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read