Monday, November 17, 2014

Accountability vs. Comparability: Its a big difference

There it was in all its glory.  Beaming with pride and begging for someone to take up the challenge.  As a matter of fact, I was beginning to think it was a set up; a trap placed on twitter by the ed reformists trying to bait an unsuspecting educator into a war of words.  For those who don't know me personally, I have never been short of words.  In my family, those who use 5 words instead of 50 to answer a question simply aren't trying hard enough.  But I digress..... The bait, the trap, the question was "Can schools be held accountable without standardized testing?" Challenge accepted!

If my keyboard could scream, it would have as I typed "High Stakes, Standardized testing isn't accountability, it is comparability."  Schools are held accountable everyday of the year without the need for a standardized test.  Does anyone believe there is a shortage of mad mommas waiting outside the principal's office?  Parents avail themselves of their right to conference with teachers, administrators, and make phone calls to board members everyday.  I call that local accountability.  Almost every school has an online grade book where parents and students can see in near real time the "grades" and assignments being used to assess learning.  I call that academic accountability.  On almost every board meeting agenda is an item giving visitors a chance to address the board of education during a public comments period.  I call that stakeholder accountability.  Multiple times per year a State Department of Education Regional Accreditation Officer sits in my office and interviews our staff regarding our accreditation compliance.  Their checklist has gotten so long, it now takes up the front and back of 6 pages.  I call that organizational accountability.  Every year the board of education hires an expensive accounting firm to comb thoroughly through the financial records of the school and report such findings to the board of education, the State Department of Education, and the Oklahoma State Auditor's office.  I call that financial accountability.  If schools are held "accountable" to the parents on a daily basis, the community on a monthly basis, the SDE and State Auditor on a yearly basis, HOW ARE SCHOOLS NOT ACCOUNTABLE WITH OR WITHOUT YOUR STUPID TEST!

The answer was not shocking.  I didn't expect the argument to work because high stakes standardized testing has never been about accountability.  The ed reformists views what they call "government schools" through tinted glasses. The lens through which they view public schools is clouded in either mistrust of educators or through the greed of potential profits.  It is not hard to tell from which paradigm they are making their argument if you know their basic vocabulary.  Mistrust of teachers reformists want to talk about accountability systems such as A-F grading, Value Added Measures, or other statistically manufactured data as a way to COMPARE one school/teacher/student to another.  That is why everything has to be measured and reported has a single metric..... so they can COMPARE one outcome to another.  Greed driven reformists use manufactured COMPARISON to convince people schools are failing and there needs to be some "product" introduced into the school which will help get them back on track.  They like to use the phrase "return on investment" to persuade stakeholders to one of two profitable decisions..... The school needs to purchase "test prep" or other "curriculum" from them to be better at the outcome or the state needs to allow more taxpayer funded school choice.  

Standardized tests are just the "product" being purchased by schools to satisfy the ed reformists greed.  Standardized tests are the means to an end which the "mistrust of educators" crowd uses to invent bad teachers and identify schools who need to do better.  This entire accountability reform agenda has never been about making sure Alex Public Schools teaches math or reading.  The whole accountability craze has never been about "seeing the academic growth" of students in reading and math.  The accountability movement is a cleverly disguised ruse to compare my school to your school.  They want to perpetuate the myth that public schools are failing.  They want what they want, and it has nothing to do with accountability.


  1. Fierce and true. My favorite kind of writing. Tests are designed to predict performance on the next test. Period. We are torturing ourselves and the tests and most importantly, our kids...all to satisfy reformers' greed.

    1. I think AF has more to do with economics than pure profit. I think it is a way suburbs can compete for higher property values and attract better companies into their tax base. Plus the billions of dollars schools spend to educate their students is a nice wind fall for those education corporations......

  2. I'm not sure focusing on the motivation of those wanting state tests adds much to the argument. The value of state tests should be measured on its own merits. Also, accountability and comparability are not mutually exclusive. Ranking systems are used because they help agencies avoid the pitfalls of defining proficiency purely in terms of cut-off scores, which have their own problems. Rather than argue that we don't need state tests, I would rather see the OSDE modify the current system to diminish some of its more glaring problems.

  3. One way to diminish the impact of high-stakes tests is to focus more on continual checking for understanding and not so much on district benchmarks. Why would a teacher need a district benchmark to know how well prepared his or her students are for the upcoming state test? Continual checking for understanding informs the teacher by the minute on student proficiency.