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Keeping Accountability Systems Accountable

Phi Delta Kappan; Bloomington Vol. 88, Iss. 5,  (Jan 2007): 359-363.

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Headnote

It is widely assumed that if students pass state tests that are aligned with state standards, their school is doing a good job of educating them, and if they pass the state's exit exam, they are ready to face the challenges of college. Ms. Foote questions those assumptions and presents an alternative way of judging the quality of a student's high school education.

THE STANDARDS and accountability movement in education has undeniably transformed schooling throughout the United States. Even before President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act into law in January 2002, mandating annual public school testing in English and math for grades 3-8 and once in high school, most states had already instituted their own accountability systems of state standards linked to state exams. Throughout the country, a battery of tests the FCAT in Florida, the TAAS and later TAKS in Texas, the SOL in Virginia, the MCAS in Massachusetts, and the AIMS in Arizona, to name a few - awaited students in a few select grades each year. States used the results of those tests to determine their educational health and, in turn, to judge their schools. Now, with NCLB, the number of students tested annually has skyrocketed as all 50 states have exams in operation, with even more grades - seven in all - required to administer tests.

Though critics have denounced so-called high-stakes testing for reducing curricula to circumscribed test content and learning to rote memorization,1 proponents have countered that the standards and accountability movement has spurred increased learning, as shown by rising state test scores.2 Many states have reported test score gains, especially in the early grades, but questions are emerging as to whether these increased test scores really do indicate increased learning - or, for that matter, if the tests...