Accountability Frankenstein

K-12 Testing

FairTest Examiner - October 2007

In Accountability Frankenstein, University of South Florida education professor Sherman Dorn describes current test-based forms of school accountability as a monster that must be tamed. The book offers a thoughtful, complex analysis of the origins of accountability and the consequences of relying on test scores, concluding with ideas for a different form of accountability.

Dorn makes clear that the U.S. did not have to adopt test-based accountability -- it was a political choice. The costs of this choice are high. They include narrowed curriculum, instructional time lost to testing and test preparation, and damage to students through forms of educational ranking and sorting. After exploring the origins of the uses of tests, he details the flaws in test scores and in setting cut-off levels. Growth measures do not solve these problems, but they do add new layers of complexity, making the accountability system even less transparent to the public.

Accountability presumes the existence of goals. Dorn traces the evolution of and competing ideas about expectations for students and school purposes. Testing hides political judgments behind technical processes. Because the goals now set for schools are unrealistic, he writes, they harm rather than help education, in part by demotivating and alienating teachers. He criticizes claims by test-centric reformers that they are defending the interests of children against self-serving adults, such as teachers. In fact, all the discussions are among adults and about adult interests, rooted in contesting views of schools, society and school reform.

Accountability will not go away, Dorn says, but society can tame it and make it useful. In this vein, he concludes with thoughtful criteria for accountability reform.

Accountability Frankenstein is occasionally dense reading because Dorn backs up his arguments with rich data and detailed discussion. For those wanting a thought-provoking and exploration of the roots and consequences of test-based accountability, this is a fine addition to your library.