Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Promoting Responsible Accountability in Schools and Education

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Promoting Responsible Accountability in Schools and Education

Article excerpt

Mr. Sirotnik envisions the day when neither his high school friend Helen nor any of our nation's young people would be punished on the basis of a test-driven system that is ill suited to their abilities and ambitions and to the broader purposes of public schooling in our multicultural and democratic society.

LATELY, I've been thinking about my friend Helen. We went through junior and senior high school and college together. She was a good student in all but one subject, mathematics. In fact, she was brilliant in English, but she was absolutely stymied when it came to mathematics. Helen would have liked to be better at math, but it really didn't bother her that she wasn't. Somehow she made it through the basic math classes in high school without flunking out and was admitted to and graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in English and a secondary teaching credential. Helen is now one of the most successful and honored English teachers in Los Angeles. She loves teaching, and, after more than 30 years, she still has no plans to retire. She has raised two children; aside from a few traffic tickets, she has never violated any laws; she votes in elections (and takes them seriously); she doesn't use illegal drugs; she contributes time and money to social causes; and she looks after her aging parents.

There's much more I could say about my friend Helen. But it's instructive to note that if she were to be a high school student preparing to graduate in the state of Washington in 2008, she wouldn't be able to. No matter how many times she took it, Helen would never have passed the mathematics test, which is part of the "certificate of mastery" that will be required for graduation. Would she have dropped out of high school, knowing she would never graduate? Would she have gone on to complete a GED at a local community college? Could she ever have become an English teacher? And could she have made an important difference in the educational lives of some 9,000 young people over a 30-year career?

Don't mistake my point in sharing Helen's story. It is not about gender or about one subject being more or less important than another. Helen might have been a whiz in mathematics instead of English, or I could have reminisced about my friend Hal instead. I share Helen's story because I care deeply about the well-being of each and every young person in today's and tomorrow's public schools. And because of this concern, I have serious reservations about the punitive nature of traditional accountability practices, particularly as these practices have been playing out in the current high-stakes policy environment.1 For example, high-stakes accountability testing has exacerbated the already problematic dropout rates of marginalized students.2 Evidence is emerging about teacher demoralization and attrition as a result of frustration with the overemphasis on mandated testing for high-stakes accountability purposes.3 And movements, some court-based, are already occurring in several states to counter the fallout from high-stakes testing and accountability practices.4

The acronym suggested by the title of this article is no accident. I wish to share here what might serve as a foundation for PRAISE, not punishment -- a foundation for rethinking substantially what it means to think and act responsibly when it comes to calling our schools, school systems, educators, and students to account. My colleagues and I are currently trying to "think out of the box" regarding what ought to constitute appropriate accountability practices.5 We are trying to counter the prevailing rhetoric of high-stakes accountability and to promote, instead, a new rhetoric of educational responsibility. We are asking for more caring and for justifiable educational practices that serve the interests of all children and their families. At the same time we are calling for finding creative and useful ways to demonstrate publicly who students are, what they know, what they care about and are able to do, and what they can become. …

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