Accountability Where It Matters Most

Shouldn’t we be accountable for providing quality learning opportunities to all children? Shouldn’t we be asking for accountability where it matters most? Aren’t we – the public – responsible for doing that?

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) “believes that individuals are accountable first to those directly affected by their actions and second to all other interested parties. Thus science teachers are accountable primarily to students and parents.” (SPECIAL NOTE: This author holds the same basic position as the NSTA but believes we should be using “standards-referenced” NOT “standards-based” as a guiding principle. See Standards & Their Use for clarity.)

With the promise to finally “fix” No Child Left Behind, we really need to think this through.

How do we know students are learning what they need to know and be able to do?

Tests, assessments, measures of student achievement and performance…we measure students in multiple ways yet we should have figured out by now that higher scores on standardized tests do not equate to the quality of learning. That’s where the public needs to understand that it is “systemic” accountability we want and there are many layers!

In a perfect system, the teacher is a highly educated and trained individual, the teaching environment is healthy, safe, and conductive to learning, the objectives are clear, the teacher has all the materials to do the job, and the students are prepared to learn.

Assessing the student becomes simple. There are student-learning objectives that the 4c7866fd6a1029fa8037bad0e1e29877teacher evaluates the student against – called “formative” testing. Teachers use the information to assess what the student did or did not learn and adjust instruction to meet the needs of the student – becoming “accountable” to the student – being responsible for doing their job.

Other measures depend on the grade level and intended use. There are end-of-course exams that many of us probably recall as being “final” exams – called “summative” assessments. And there are other standardized achievement tests that can be used to assess trends.

So, at the student level isn’t it enough to have…

♦Teacher-created formative assessments of standards-aligned student learning objectives,

♦End-of-course exams, subject specific tests, or school or district summative assessments as necessary to address any problem areas identified, and

♦Standardized achievement tests given at transition points (grade-span testing, 4th, 8th, 12th grades) as an oversight?

At the student level, if parents are comfortable with this amount of assessment of their child and have confidence in their teacher’s ability to judge their student, is it fair or even reasonable for the public to demand more testing of students? The views of students and parents should matter.

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5 thoughts on “Accountability Where It Matters Most

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  2. Victoria,

    I’m wondering if your thinking about standardized testing has changed at all since writing this post. Somewhat specifically, but please don’t limit your response to my queries:

    Are “standards” the answer that their proponents make them seem to be?
    Why not curriculum goals, as we had for all those years before the standards movement?
    When you say “end of course exams (the old fashioned finals?) . . . to address any problem areas” what do you exactly mean by that “address any problems?

    One thing that I’ve become more aware of lately is that part of the thinking behind of the standards and testing regime is that teachers can be made into “diagnosticians” that teaching is mainly a matter of finding out what is “wrong” with the student, unfortunately, resulting in many iotrogenic faulty educational decisions. Is not teaching more of a bringing out, a guiding of the child to help them fulfill his/her natural wonderment of her/himself and the world in which one finds oneself? Why the focus on “problems” and supposed faults in learning as is done in the standards and testing regime?

    This train of thought is going on many tracks at the same time in my mind. Need to organize and write another book.

    Hope all is well with you and yours!!


    • No, “standards” are not the answer.
      I still stand by the research done by Bert Stoneberg that demonstrates statistically (and he has repeated his analysis with the same results for at least two NAEP testing years) that their is minuscule to no correlation between higher (more rigorous) standards and increasing student achievement . Note the graph at the bottom of this blog

      Yes, end of course exams like our old fashion finals. A “problem” is a major concept not understood by a student. “Addressing” that problem would be giving the student and their parents that information and resources to fill that learning gap.

      It isn’t that there is something “wrong with the student,” the student just might not “get it” the first go around and catch on later, but yes, they need to know and tests should be helpful in the diagnosis of learning gaps. Students should have the chance to learn from them…..That’s my opinion as a mother who got very little useful information out of the test results I saw. I have stories I could tell…..Keep in mind, my kids were in school as the Standards Movement came down on us and I was a weekly volunteer in classes. I saw what was happening…..and been fighting it ever since….to no avail….yet.

      Although I agree with the idea of guiding students as the main focus of student learning, I do think there are major concepts that are necessary building blocks for a good educational foundation. Those are principles that should not be left up to luck in establishing in the mind of students…..for example, basic arithmetic. Those are the principles that need to be on a final and the results clarified to parents ….. and preferably the next teachers! How great would that be for the next teacher to understand what exactly the student wasn’t ready to learn the year before?

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