Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

THE EDITOR'S PAGE: The Human Element

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

THE EDITOR'S PAGE: The Human Element

Article excerpt

READERS with good memories (or those who read slowly) will recall that the February issue featured an exchange of views on a single topic, complete with comments and responses. This month the matter is accountability, but the presentation is very different.

Six articles come at accountability from a variety of angles. Indeed, some of the writers view as problems what others view as strengths. Alfie Kohn's lead article isn't a part of the section, because, though he covers similar terrain, his purpose and treatment make his piece a stand-alone. There is much food for thought in this collection.

No reasonable person disputes the need for a public institution -- from the schools, to city governments, to the military -- to account to the public for the conscientious pursuit of its goals. Some will always disagree over those goals, but much of the acrimony that clouds public discussions of school accountability stems from the kinds of data we collect about schools and the value we assign to them. Practically speaking, that means test scores -- usually from standardized tests and usually from tests consisting to a large extent of multiple-choice items.

I always wanted as much information as possible about the performance of my own kids on Indiana's tests. And the testing companies did try. My daughters' scores were reported in half a dozen scales for language and half a dozen for math. There was even a plain-English explanation of what each of the scores meant. But there wasn't enough to really help me -- or their teachers -- figure out what they were capable of.

Enter the constructed response, which reaches its high point in the student-produced essay. Surely a student essay must be immune to the charge of superficiality so often leveled at multiple-choice tests? Yet even here the kind of measurement we choose influences the judgments we make.

Back in another lifetime -- we called it the 1970s -- I did my share of holistic rating of bluebooks produced by high school seniors taking part in a precollege summer program on the Indiana University campus. …

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