Opinion
Accountability Opinion

We Must Change Accountability First

By Stu Silberman — April 01, 2014 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The following is a guest post from David N. Cook, Director of Innovation and Partner Engagement at the Kentucky Department of Education.

For years, we have been told by federal and state policy makers all over the country that we must have a model of education accountability that is high stakes and based on summative assessments designed to measure a student’s knowledge of core academic standards. These models must also provide annual measurements in order to ensure that all children are being served and that we can identify schools that aren’t serving their children adequately, specifically those children of color and in poverty.

During the same years, thousands of hours of professional learning have been given to teachers and school administrators to assist them in making the transition from a one size fits all model of instruction to a model where each student’s pathway is personalized to focus on their strengths and interests. These personalized models have a better chance of measuring each student’s knowledge of those standards and thus giving more students the opportunity to be ready for their postsecondary lives.

Even with all this professional learning, the percentage of teachers, schools and administrators who have implemented these next generation models of education is extremely low.

Good teachers and administrators want to implement these personalized models, but they are unlikely to do so because they are slaves to accountability systems that provide little benefit to them or their students.

It amazes me that so many people, particularly those who have the very important goal of making sure that all children have equal access and opportunity, embrace the current systems so strongly. They embrace the notion of annual assessments as a way to ensure that districts are closing achievement gaps and that low performing schools (based on these summative assessments) are identified for poor performance and not closing gaps.

Here is the problem: any system that is based on assessments that are being given at a specific moment in time is inherently flawed. Every teacher in this country will tell you that children don’t learn at the same pace so why would we assess them at the same time.

The systems we are using to identify achievement gaps and poor performance are actually CREATING the achievement gaps and poor performance. The reason, is simple, using time based annual summative assessments is the easiest way to record data. I guess it doesn’t matter that the data has no correlation to whether students are actually learning the standards.

If we know that two students are learning core academic content on different timelines and we then force those to kids to take an assessment at the same time, we should know that they will score differently and we have manufactured an achievement gap. The scores resulting from those assessments taken on that one day do not mean that the student with the lower score has been purposefully given less than adequate instruction; it means that it may take that student another week to learn the content.

Buddy Berry, superintendent of the Eminence Schools in Kentucky, goes a step further. He says this: “3rd grade teachers teach 3rd grade math content all year and then we give all third grade children a math assessment at the end of the year. Fall comes and we move all those kids up to 4th grade teachers. Those 4th grade teachers start all the kids on the 4th grade math content, regardless of how much of the 3rd grade content they learned, because they have to get them ready for a 4 th grade summative math assessment. We then repeat this process year after year, creating larger and larger gaps in achievement. We are doing a huge disservice to kids that are behind and schools and districts are getting blamed for something out of their control.”

Here’s an idea: let’s begin with the end in mind. Start by designing personalized summative assessment systems that utilize performance assessments, traditional summative tests, and other demonstrations of mastery and give them to students at the point of readiness. The goal should be steady progress toward making sure every child is ready for postsecondary life. The goal should not be measures of proficiency on assessments that are gap creators.

It is exponentially harder to design and implement this system than our current accountability systems, but it’s simply the right thing to do. Only then will we truly be able to say that certain schools have large achievement gaps and poor performance because only then will we see what students have truly learned.

You don’t understand anything until you learn it more than one way. ~Marvin Minsky

The opinions expressed in Public Engagement & Ed Reform 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.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

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.
Sponsor
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
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.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin
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.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson

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

Accountability Did Washington D.C.'s Education Overhaul Help Black Children? This Study Says Yes
Researchers said the district's "market-based" reforms accelerated achievement versus other districts and states.
5 min read
Accountability Opinion What Next-Gen Accountability Can Learn From No Child Left Behind
As we ponder what's next for accountability and assessment, we’d benefit from checking the rearview mirror more attentively and more often.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Accountability Opinion Let’s Make Transparency the Pandemic’s Educational Legacy
Transparency can strengthen school communities, allow parents to see what’s happening, and provide students more of the support they need.
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Accountability The Feds Offered Waivers on ESSA Accountability. Here's Where States Stand on Getting Them
While they get less attention than testing waivers, flexibility related to low-performing schools is an important federal and state issue.
5 min read
Image of a student taking a test with a mask on.
Rich Vintage/E+