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  • Accountability

    We Believe in Measuring Performance

    We have always judged ourselves by two simple criteria: Did we keep our promises, and did we do it as efficiently and pleasantly as possible? We believe these are good yardsticks with which to begin assessing the performance of students and schools, and that it's appropriate to attach meaningful consequences to those yardsticks.

    We recognize, however, that there are many bad tests and many bad ways of using even good tests. When stakes are high, tests become as much a motivator as a measurement tool. Therefore it's crucial that testing programs always keep foremost in their minds that you will get what you measure. If you measure writing, for example, students will write more. If you measure multiple–choice gamesmanship skills, students may become better test–takers without necessarily improving their academic knowledge and skills.

    Make the Data Useful and Available

    The U.S. spends a billion dollars a year writing and administering tests to K–12 students, but receives in return little useful information about what actually works in schools. Most data, especially from high-stakes state tests, is either carefully hoarded or so unintelligible that it is disregarded. Only a small fraction makes its way to families, educators, and policy–makers in a format that is both comprehensible and useful.

    If students, parents, and educators feel they can use the information gleaned from testing to improve their student learning, they will tend to support testing programs. If not, they will understandably seek to avoid or undermine them. The best testing program, in our opinion, regards educators as the customers of the data it generates and makes instructional utility its highest priority.

    Build in Flexibility

    One size doesn't fit all. And no one test or curriculum does either.

    It is unlikely that the same test will be best for every college–bound student, or every tenth grade student and teacher in a state. Certainly a single national curriculum or test would be even more limiting, and subject to endless political, ideological, and cultural wrangling. The needs of accountability should be balanced with the ability for parents, students, and educators–particularly in high school–to choose a course of study. Good accountability supports, even encourages, a diversity of curricular and pedagogical options. Ultimately, the greater the diversity of high–quality, rigorous, and measurable curricula, the stronger an educational system will be, and the more immune to faddish swings.