Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Standards for Standards-Based Accountability Systems

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Standards for Standards-Based Accountability Systems

Article excerpt

Who will hold the accountability systems accountable? Mr. Sirotnik and Ms. Kimball propose 11 standards that accountability systems themselves should meet.

THIS standards-based movement seems to be hanging around a bit longer than we imagined it would. We thought for a while that the movement might have a half-life similar to that of the minimum competency movement back in the Seventies, but not so. Perhaps there is more appeal to the notion of developing challenging standards and the content based on those standards, assessment systems that are a cut above the usual norm-referenced multiple-choice tests, and accountability systems with more "teeth." Whatever the reasons for the durability of the movement and for better or for worse, depending on your point of view these tougher assessment and accountability systems are having an impact on the schools and on the people in and around them.

Like most movements in education, the standards-based movement has its either/or camps bent on circling the wagons, polarizing the issues, and arguing one side or the other. In the pages of the Kappan, for example, battles have been waged between the champions of testing and accountability and the debunkers of those evil practices. There is merit, of course, in having such arguments engaging in the dialectic, as it were with the hope of clarifying positions and possibilities. In the meantime, though, contested practices continue to be carried on in the schools, and people continue to be affected, sometimes profoundly.

We are neither advocates nor apologists for testing and accountability. One of us has been quite critical in past writings on these topics;1 the other worked for five years in the policy world trying to help build sensible assessment and accountability systems.2 We are both concerned about the ways in which such systems are often used against people be they students, teachers, or parents and against schools and school districts. We are sympathetic with the positions taken by the authors in a recent issue of the Kappan that critiqued performance assessment and high-stakes accountability practices.3 Yet the turmoil in the trenches over these matters is palpable, and if history is any lesson it will continue in some form or other.

We are searching, therefore, for another rhetorical base, another way to persuade the education community especially those members who make education policy to think very carefully about what should go on in the name of assessment and accountability. We will experiment here with an argument based on a simple and familiar moral imperative, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Ironically, the developers of standards-based accountability systems, while positing standards for others, seem not to have developed standards for their own systems.

We think it's time for these accountability systems to practice what they preach. Therefore, we will propose and discuss 11 standards for them that we think could foster deliberation even future action by educators and policy makers who sincerely wish to improve public education.


But first we must define our terminology. More specifically, we must clarify the differences at least as we perceive them between testing and assessment and between assessment systems and accountability systems.

Testing. A test is a single way of getting a sample (and thus a limited amount) of information about what a student knows or is able to do in reference to a specified domain of knowledge or behavior. We do not have sufficient space here to discuss all the ramifications of this deceptively simple statement. But most Kappan readers are at least somewhat familiar with such test-related issues as cultural bias, distinctions between norm- and criterion-referenced tests, types of reliability and validity, the impact of accommodations for students with special needs, and tradeoffs between reliability and generalizability in performance assessment. …

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