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Accountability: A New Approach from Broader, Bolder

Broader, BolderAbout a year ago, a task force released a report calling for a Broader, Bolder Approach to education. Broader Bolder’s approach was exactly what its name implied, a fuller and more audacious look at what it would take to raise truly educated children all across America. Among its recommendations were a richer curriculum, investments in pre-kindergarten and health services, and more attention to the time kids spend outside of school.

The signers and co-chairs of the report included the current Secretary of Education (Arne Duncan), and two Assistant Secretaries of Education from the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations (Tom Payzant and Susan Neuman). Just as important were the major national figures in education who are more familiar to New York teachers, including Diane Ravitch, Pedro Noguera, and Rudy Crew.

At the time, the report generated quite a bit of press and more than a little controversy, especially since BBA was calling for a look at all the outcomes we want for children, as opposed to the politically simple focus on math and reading scores that has fetishized our classrooms – the test question dissections, the introduction of test prep as a “genre study,” and the promotions, graduations, and cash rewards for children based on tests, tests, tests. Since BBA was asking for something more inspiring than that, some people saw the report as a repudiation of testing, a backing away from accountability.

Now, however, BBA has come out with School Accountability — A Broader, Bolder Approach, which offers a framework for how school accountability policies can be improved to measure the aspects of education recommended by the original task force. (Full disclosure: I was a member of BBA’s accountability committee.) Taken together, BBA’s recommendations read as a kind of remedy to the distortions created under the current system. Once again, the committee included Tom Payzant, Susan Neuman, Diane Ravitch, Richard Rothstein, and Pedro Noguera, but there were new signers as well, like Christopher Cross who serves as a consultant to the Broad Foundation and is a senior fellow with the Center for Education Policy. This is a diverse group, but the group spoke with one voice when it came to making much-needed changes to accountability policies across the states. Among the recommendations:

  • An expanded role for a low-stakes NAEP tests in more subjects and skills;
  • A federal system to coordinate and disseminate data regarding all the gaps that influence student achievement (How healthy are our children ? How much do they know about history and art?);
  • Better testing and in-school evaluations (“inspectorates”) carried out by independent professionals who can determine how well the school is addressing the full range of underlying factors that influence student achievement, including factors like safety and supports. These more sophisticated evaluations might occur every three years (BBA calls for flexibility and experimentation), and must be monitored and revised as the models develop.

Accountability will probably be part of school cultures for a long time to come. And in an accountability culture, schools tend to focus only on those things for which they are held accountable. Since that is the case, we need to put into the equation the things that teachers know will make a difference. BBA offers one way to do that, and a way to change the face of education in our schools.

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1 Comment:

  • 1 Kris
    · Jul 27, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    I read this particular post with great interest. As a teacher, there is a strong push to make sure my students are prepared for a variety of tests throughout the school year. Test preparation is strongly emphasized at my school as well as the schools of many of my colleagues because we are rated as a school based on how well students perform on their state tests. I do wonder, however, if there is too much focus on state mandated tests. There seems to be a strong emphasis on the four “core” subjects (math, literacy, social studies, and science), which happen to be the subjects that are tested in the 8th grade in New York State, while other subjects are electives and not given the same attention as the core subjects.

    I agree with the point of view of the authors of “A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education”. It seems that accountability focuses on a student’s performance in school (and only in certain subject areas), but does not take into account what happens to students outside of school hours. The authors also argue that curriculum has been narrowed in response to high states tests in math and reading. Even published data seems to focus in on math and reading. Other authors on this blog have pointed this out as well. It is likely that if other subjects such as science or the arts were tested as well, then more attention would be paid to those subjects as well. I worry, though, if test-taking skills will be emphasized more than mastery of the subjects.

    Testing and accountability, in my mind, is something that will only become more emphasized in education in years to come. An “objective” test that is designed to measure a student’s ability is nothing new. The SAT has been one of the standards for college acceptance for years. (Even though many have argued that is a biased test and is not an indicator of academic achievement (see http://www.fairtest.org/facts/satfact.htm as a starting point)). I am not arguing that the state exams currently used to measure K-12 students are necessarily biased (that is another argument for another time). I simply want to point out that the United States has a strong history associated with measuring student outcomes in ways that are “objective” (ie. multiple choice tests) and produce data that can be analyzed using statistical methods (produces numeric data). As a society we rely on this data to tell us if we are doing a good job educating our students.

    Overall, I am not sure that short-term outcomes are the best measure of our ability to create individuals that are ready to become active members of society. In addition, the emphasis on “the test” seems to focus students onto only on subject at a time and narrows their view of their other subjects (I’m speaking from personal experience here). There must be more to education than just a test and I think that the authors of “A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education” are trying to get us to look at students as people, instead of outcomes.