Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"I believe in accountability"

At a school board meeting last night, the subject of accountability came up more than a few times. As I read about education reform over the past few years, and even recall my own TEDx talk, I realize that word has a polarizing effect.  (Coincidence has it that Diane Ravitch was thinking the same thing at the same time)

The word "accountability" has been tied in with high-stakes standardized testing in the age of education reform.  I have previously claimed that it is a word that was intentionally injected into the education reform vernacular in order to support the overuse of high stakes testing.  Over time, I have seen another use for the word and I just finally put my finger on it last night at that school board meeting as I was listening to our school board chair defend his position on accountability.  He said a phrase that is repeated by the education reform establishment:  "I believe in accountability."

The statement "I believe in accountability" has been used to defend the use of high stakes tests.  Well I saw last night that it also used to demonize teachers and the new movement that is against high stakes testing.  As a teacher, I'm pretty damn sure that I believe in accountability as well.  I just never had to say "I believe in accountability" to defend my grading policies.  I never said "I believe in accountability" to take attendance.  I never said "I believe in accountability" when I have to write a student a pass to the office or correct inappropriate behavior.  As a teacher, I LIVE the statement "I believe in accountability."  With the way I am evaluated, I live in accountability.

So, this phrase is used to defend high stakes testing.  The phrase was used to invent an entire high stakes testing industry because schools were "failing".  Instead of investing in the schools and classrooms, we used "accountability" to shift the focus of "success" OUT of the classroom and onto a test.

I think we need to start using that phrase to REMOVE high stakes testing.  We don't need statewide standardized assessments to make promotion/retention/graduation/hiring/firing decisions.  And why?  Because "we believe in accountability".  We believe in authentic accountability of behavior, performance, and mastery.  If we invest in a fair, equitable, reliable, and valid accountability system (which high stakes testing is most certainly NOT on any level), we would have no need for this bizarre overuse and overreach of high stakes testing.  If we invest in an authentic, productive, peer-involved, collaborative, improvement-driven (not punishment driven) teacher evaluation system, including teacher education and training, we would not need VAM scores or spot evaluations (which account for less than 1% of teaching time).  We need to invest in this system in the name of accountability.

For our students, we already have the perfect accountability mechanism in place:  GPA.  We just need to INVEST in that mechanism. We need to invest in training teachers about valid and authentic measures of student learning, growth, and mastery.  We need to invest in the teachers' ability to differentiate their learning opportunities for students to be able to more accurately assess students in a variety of ways.  We need to invest in a school's ability to vet teacher assessment systems to ensure that valid measurement of learning, growth, and mastery is taking place.  We need to use standardized testing for its intended purpose: to take a snapshot of where we are, and investigate the variables that led to our placement.  We cannot use standardized testing to come to conclusions. We need to invest in this system of assessment in the name of accountability.

No parent, teacher, or union wants to eliminate accountability.  All stakeholders in education believe in accountability.  However, the education reform movement has hijacked that word to demonize authentic measurement and assessment in the place of high stakes testing.  The reform movement has undermined the meaning and use of the GPA and the authentic assessment of learning, growth, and mastery that can only be accurately measured in one setting:  the classroom.   It's time we invest in our teachers, invest in our classrooms, and invest in our students.  And why?  Because "I believe in accountability."


  1. Yes, yes, and yes! I also believe in accountability! And I love this.
    - Dawn Peterson

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