A-F Accountability: Page Two
Paul Harvey was a well-known commentator, radio personality, and overall modern day philosopher during my (much) younger years. On countless occasions I would eat dinner—dinner was the noontime meal in my hometown, not the last meal of the day—with my grandparents and we’d listen to the radio for the farm and ranch report and, of course, Paul Harvey. He would always have a short commentary on something or someone of note, pointing out the heartwarming or sometimes disturbing characteristics of the subject for that day. The best of his segments, though, occurred when he would add a little extra information to the original story and put it into perspective. He called that Page Two of the story, and although I’m certainly no Paul Harvey, I do have a Page Two to my position on A-F accountability.
I have made my negative position on that subject clear, but I’m hearing that some are wondering what I DO think about school accountability and how it should be done. That’s a great question, so let me answer it here and now.
As a teacher, I understand the importance of communicating to both parents and students not just what their grade is, but what is needed to make changes so the grade can be better next time. With A-F, there is no pathway to improvement. Districts are left to make assumptions and generalizations as to what can be done to raise the grade, and that is not beneficial to anyone.
Schools are representative of their communities, so those communities should provide a meaningful portion of that which they believe schools should be held accountable. As the A-F standards are currently written, community input counts as ten per cent of the overall district score. That is strange, considering that over 60% of school funding comes from local taxing. Local school boards set the district goals and objectives for their constituents; shouldn’t those who make the plans and dictate how the district money is spent also decide on the degree to which a school district complies with local wishes?
Proponents of A-F accountability state that the system allows for "understanding at a glance" of how a school or district is doing. Don’t you believe it! While everyone thinks they know what an A means—you make a grade of 90% or better on the assigned tasks—that same rationale isn’t used with this system. The same type of convoluted percentages, forced bell curves, and unexplainable passing standards we find in the current system are used in A-F as well—we just call them "As" or "Fs" instead of "Met Standard" or "Improvement Required." What’s the use of using a traditional vocabulary term if it doesn’t have the traditional meaning behind it?
In summary, I feel accurate school accountability is present when there is an established, comprehensive system that looks beyond high-stakes, multiple-choice exams to meaningful assessments that have value for students, parents, and teachers, and local measures of what each community views as important in promoting college and career readiness. Without the necessary local component at a meaningful level, we are merely feeding the multimillion dollar testing industry rather than pinpointing our students’ progress.