Magazine article Techniques

Don't Worry, This Is Only a Test

Magazine article Techniques

Don't Worry, This Is Only a Test

Article excerpt

Trends in accountability and assessment

Some education reformers say getting a good grade on a test demonstrates only that a student is good at taking tests. Yet many people believe strongly that more testing will help make schools more accountable and will ultimately be good for all students. It's hard to find a hotter issue in education today than accountability and assessment. A contentious debate is taking place among both politicians and education policy specialists over what works. Standardized tests or authentic assessment? Sensitivity to multiple intelligences and different learning styles or one-size-- fits-all?

Numerous policymakers insist that increased standardized testing will make schools more accountable. National and local politicians-up to the highest levels-have trumpeted testing as the answer to improving education. President George W. Bush, speaking to a joint session of Congress in February about education reform, made clear his position on assessment and accountability.

"Critics of testing contend it distracts from learning. They talk about 'teaching to the test.'" said Bush. "But let us put that logic to the test. If you test children on basic math and reading skills and you are 'teaching to the test,' you are teaching math and reading. And that is the whole idea."

The Buck Stops Here

Many states are working to hold all public schools accountable for education performance and tying this directly to funding and financial support. But what is accountability? It seems to mean something different to every person using the word.

According to the Annenberg Institute of School Reform at Brown University, accountability encompasses five elements:

1. Agreed-upon high standards that offer direction to curriculum and instruction, provide benchmarks by which to measure student progress and make explicit the goals of reducing disparities among groups of students.

2. A variety of rigorous assessment instruments (from standardized tests to portfolios of student work and anecdotal evidence) that enable school communities to document individual student progress as well as achievement across classes and schools.

3. Distributed responsibility for high-- quality education among all stakeholders (not only teachers, administrators and school boards but also parents, community members, policy makers, businesses and universities).

4. Access to conditions and resources such as strong leadership, skillful instruction, adequate finances, time for collaboration and reflection and openness to community involvement.

5. A system for the continuous and reflective use of data which allows school communities to examine their practices, formulate questions, reflect on intended outcomes and take action to improve learning within a school culture that values continuous improvement.

In essence, accountability means developing clear standards for gauging successful student performance, and having the ability to affect change in schools if the level of success does not measure up.

Career and technical educators are familiar with the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technology Education Act of 1998, which aims to bring all states together using a uniform accountability and assessment system. The Perkins Act requires states to define and report data on four core indicators of performance:

student attainment of challenging, state-established academic and vocational-technical skill proficiencies

student attainment of high school diploma, equivalent or postsecondary degree or credential

placement in, retention in and completion of postsecondary education or advanced training, the military or employment, and

participation in and completion of vocational and technical programs leading to nontraditional employment.

Many states have taken their own approaches to accountability in career and technical education (CTE) while focusing on the mandates of Perkins. …

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