Assessment Opinion

The Accountability Timeline: Putting Students First

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — September 07, 2014 3 min read
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Building a good idea, like building a good structure, takes time, talent, and contributions from various fields of knowledge and expertise. Let’s take a skyscraper for example. The work requires funding, understanding of purpose, and a vision for design. It will involve architects, lawyers, steelworkers, electricians, plumbers, perhaps stone workers, drywall installers, interior designers...and a whole lot more. The plans need to be clear and detailed, informed by expertise and understanding of the project, its limitations, its strengths, and its possibilities. After all, we want a skyscraper that does not fall down.

Teacher Evaluation Timeline Changing
It appears, in some places, the building of the teacher evaluation system has resulted in a bit of falling down. According to a Huffington Post article, the District of Columbia public school system, which was one of the first in the country to evaluate teachers using student test scores, announced that it would “suspend the practice while students adjust to new tests based on Common Core standards.” The article goes on to report that while the U.S. Department of Education is not backing the idea, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supports the idea. Farther north, on June 19th, Governor Andrew Cuomo “struck a deal ...that would largely hold teachers harmless from poor student scores on Common Core-based exams for two years.” (Poughkeepsie Journal).

On the face of it, there may be relief that what seemed an unreasonable roll out of an accountability system is being held off until there is more time for teachers to implement the common core standards. But there is damage that has been done. It is the kind of damage that hardens, diminishes trust, and creates an environment that is filled with resentment. What could have been different if the voices of those in the field had been invited and heard from the beginning?

It Could Have Been Different
Had teachers and leaders been invited to contribute to the conversation about accountability they would have understood the plan as it was developed. Being a part of the conversation would have led to a knowing and understanding, allowing for red flags to be raised and shortcomings to be identified. While those being held accountable would have offered perspectives and caution regarding the preparation of professionals: learning the new standards, designing the teaching of them, assess the success or failure of the first trials, and redesign the implementation.

The standards are new. The evaluation systems are new. Everyone has to learn something. Now even those who put them in place in the first place are rethinking the accountability timeline. But, this process was initiated with little show of respect for the teaching profession. It essentially said, “We are changing the rules and measuring your ability to implement them at the same time.” Teachers and leaders worked feverishly on two scores. They worked to learn and implement the standards so the children were taught this new way so they could achieve well, and so the teachers could achieve well. Everyone tried.

Children Come First
So with the steps back, let’s hope for some trust building and a good new plan. Let’s hope for an invitation into serious conversations of mutual investment instead of decisions, rebellions, and new decisions. If D.C. and the Gates and Governor Cuomo are agreeing that it is time to pause and wait to make this count for teachers, could they also be thinking we should pause for the students? Or is this decision simply a response to educator pushback? Are we in a tug of war without a plan and have the adults come before the children?

Once again, we are asking for inclusive conversations that include all the people involves to be represented and a plan, a comprehensive, negotiated plan that leaves no one in the dark, everyone feeling heard and understood, and a vision for moving forward. Can we get this right the second time? Schools are for the children. They deserve better than this. And, they deserve to be first in everyone’s mind.

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 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.