Who Should Be Accountable for Student Achievement?
First, we do not have an adequate understanding of how each teacher contributes to student achievement. There are many factors that contribute to student success. How can you hold a middle school social studies teacher or physical education teacher accountable for student performance on reading and math tests? The truth is that only about 20% of our teachers are teaching subjects and grade levels that can be directly linked to what is being tested. Additionally, we don't have a clear understanding of what is really the responsibility of the teacher versus the parents, school structure and community.
Second, we have to consider the culture that high stakes testing has created. Teachers, students, parents, and entire school communities have become so anxious about testing there seems to be little talk about anything else. We have lost perspective, making the typical public school much more narrow in its focus. We have decreased important parts of the life of the school such as recess, the arts and science experiments in favor of "drill and kill" activities. This is all so that children will do better on the tests. Yet, despite all of this focus, results nationally are not even close to the original goals of No Child Left Behind.
We are now seeing parents play a pivotal role in the future of our testing dilemma. For the very first time, parents are organizing a resistance to federal testing mandates by having their children refuse to take the tests. There is now a national group called United Opt Out that helps local groups organize and mobilize resistance to standardized testing. They are growing and becoming more visible. This begs the question, "What if they gave a test and nobody came?" School districts and states are suddenly rethinking how they respond to federal mandates.
Let's Try a New Bold Experiment.
Student assessment is an important part of the educational process. Teachers need to understand how students are progressing toward their educational goals so they can adjust instruction accordingly. What if we were to only allow assessment that would provide teachers with actionable information regarding student progress? Forget the high stakes. Let's build systems with more frequent assessments, that are part of the instructional process, and give teachers the information they need to move students forward. Teacher evaluation would focus on HOW teachers understand their students' needs and HOW they use this information. Students would advance in grade levels and programs based on this information. If we are interested in understanding the performance of a school or district as a whole, we can look at what students are doing in terms of advancing from one level to another. Here are some good questions that can be asked for accountability purposes:
1. What percentage of students are ready to move from "learning to read" to "reading to learn" by 4th grade?
2. What percentage of students are ready for Algebra by 8th grade? 9th grade?
3. What percentage of students are able to create and execute a science experiment based on the scientific method by 5th grade?
4. What percentage of students go to college without requiring remediation?
We can still understand the relative performance of schools by asking these types of questions. Eliminating annual high-stakes testing will allow teachers more time for instruction and better information to help children progress.
Teachers WANT to know how their students are progressing. We need to focus on professional development that respects their professional judgment and helps them improve their own assessment skills. Student assessment for any purpose other than helping teachers understand their own students' needs has no place in our schools. Let's have a new bold experiment that eliminates all testing except what is truly needed for our children.