Education Opinion

Wish #4: Better Alignment of Accountability Systems to School Outcomes

By skoolboy — January 21, 2009 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Here’s a little thought experiment: Suppose that, in addition to adequate yearly progress in literacy and mathematics, high schools had to demonstrate progress in students’ ethical behavior. Would the graduates of Far Rockaway High School in Queens in New York City be as proficient in their treatment of others as they are in math and literacy?

Victims of Bernard Madoff’s $50 billion Ponzi scheme might wish that Far Rockaway had spent more time on the development of its students’ non-cognitive skills as their ability to read, write and figure. Of course, we cannot tell what led Madoff astray, and his experience at Far Rockaway probably had little to do with it. But the thought experiment opens the door to a wish for accountability systems in education that are better-aligned with the diverse school outcomes we think are important.

What skills do employers value in their workers? A 2008 survey of members of the Society for Human Resources Management found that human resources professionals reported that some skills and practices were more important for experienced workers in 2008 than two years before. More than a third of the respondents reported that adaptability/flexibility; critical thinking/problem-solving; leadership; professionalism/work ethic; teamwork/collaboration; and information technology application had increased in importance in the recent past.

The story is not that different for the general public. Asked to allocate a total of 100 points across eight goals of public education, a sample of adults divided them up relatively evenly: basic academic skills (19%); critical thinking (15%); social skills and work ethic (14%); physical health (12%); preparation for skilled work (11%); emotional health (11%); citizenship (10%); and the arts and literature (8%).

Why, if the public and employers think that these are the most important goals of public education, have we constructed accountability systems that focus on a narrow subset of these goals – basic proficiency in literacy and mathematics? Part of the answer is that we had an existing technology for measuring literacy and mathematics proficiency – standardized tests of academic performance.

Richard Rothstein, Rebecca Jacobsen, and Tamara Wilder, in Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right, argue that if these broad goals are important – and skoolboy thinks they are—then we should develop measures of these goals, and incorporate them into accountability systems. One of the things we’ve learned about education accountability systems that rely on rewards and punishments is that educators respond to incentives, doing what they can to avoid punishments and to achieve rewards associated with a particular pattern of outcomes. Particularly when the inducements are high-stakes, we are liable to get precisely the outcomes that are to be rewarded and punished – no more, and no less.

Literacy and mathematical proficiency are extremely important skills for schools to cultivate, and it’s appropriate that accountability systems monitor students’ literacy and math performance and provide incentives for educators to help students achieve challenging performance standards. But it’s also critically important for U.S. children and youth to prepare to assume the responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy that depends on a tacit social contract which binds us together, and we count on schools to do this and much more. Our wish is for accountability systems in education that are designed to measure and promote genuine growth and development in children and youth.

The opinions expressed in eduwonkette 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.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for
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.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Trauma-Informed Practices & the Construction of the Deep Reading Brain
Join Ryan Lee-James, Ph.D. CCC-SLP, director of the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, with Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD., Vital Village Community Engagement Network; Neena McConnico, Ph.D, LMHC, Child Witness to Violence Project; and Sondra
Content provided by Rollins Center

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Hundreds of Conn. Bus Drivers Threaten to Walk Off the Job Over Vaccine Mandate
More than 200 school bus drivers could walk off the job in response to a vaccination mandate that goes into effect Monday.
1 min read
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, in Zelienople, Pa. Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic means putting children on school buses, and districts are working on plans to limit the risk.
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, in Zelienople, Pa. Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic means putting children on school buses, and districts are working on plans to limit the risk. <br/>
Keith Srakocic/AP Photo
Education Briefly Stated: September 22, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)