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Saturday, September 10, 2011

A School Accountability Policy Grounded in Reality

In just three school years, all schools must get all of their students to pass their state's accountability test. I am all for holding districts (i.e. superintendents), schools (i.e. principals), and teachers accountable for student learning. Accountability gives us goals to reach for and creates a sense of urgency among educators. As a result, most educators continue to collaborate and network with their peers to ensure they continue to learn as professionals to offer the best learning opportunities to their students. NCLB in its current iteration, however, neglects to consider the challenges that exist across student demographic groups to getting all students to pass a standardized test. In short, our current accountability policy ignores decades of educational achievement/outcomes research.

All educators know that student learning is not a black and white issue. If it was, then educators wouldn't need to differentiate instruction or modify lessons in attempts to get all of their students to learn. If student learning was black and white, then most of us would be working in schools that were getting great results as measured by state standardized tests. Yet in its current form, NCLB categorizes many U.S. schools as not making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Some great schools haven't met AYP at some point in time, including schools that have earned the National Blue Ribbon. How can this be? Something is surely amiss, but I wonder if the members of Congress will ever get around to reauthorizing NCLB. If they do, I wonder if Arne will help the politicians better understand relevant, rigorous research to develop an accountability system that is grounded in reality.

The reality I'm talking about is this...let's stop punishing schools that have diverse student enrollments. Those schools with ethnic diversity, large special education populations, ever increasing numbers of economically disadvantage students, and students who are English Language Learners. Let's urge Congress to develop a school accountability policy that considers the challenges these students face by giving schools flexibility in meeting student achievement benchmarks. I'm not suggesting that we leave any child behind, nor would any educator with an ounce of self-pride, but I am suggesting that it's time for NCLB to include a system of accountability that gives schools with heterogeneous student populations the flexibility to demonstrate student growth and improvement.

We've known since Coleman and colleagues' landmark study in the 1960's that student socioeconomic status is one of the strongest predictors of student achievement, yet scholars have identified just a handful of variables that might overcome its influence. It's time Congress considers this type of relevant, rigorous research to develop a school accountability policy grounded in reality.

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