Article discusses CARE Authentic Accountability plan

Article discusses CARE Authentic Accountability
plan

The excerpts below discuss the Massachusetts Coalition for
Authentic Reform in Education (CARE) Call for an Authentic Statewide
Assessment System.

Excerpted with permission from:
"Let's Treat the Cause, Not the Symptoms: Equity And
Accountability in Texas Revisited,"
by Richard R. Valencia, Angela Valenzuela, Kris Sloan, and Douglas
E. Foley
Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 83, No. 4, December 2001, pp. 318-321,
326.
(c)2001, Phi Delta Kappa International, Inc.

The authors focus on several misconceptions, omissions, and
flaws in the argument put forth in last December's (2000) Kappan
by James Scheurich, Linda Skrla, and Joseph Johnson in support
of the Texas accountability system.

THE DECEMBER 2000 Kappan featured a very important contribution
to the current discourse on standards-based school reform. "Thinking
Carefully About Equity and Accountability," by James Scheurich,
Linda Skrla, and Joseph Johnson, invited readers to take part
in a dialogue on these issues.1 At the heart of our disagreement
with Scheurich and his colleagues is the subject of the standards-based
school reform movement, which has come to dominate most discussions
in education today and which has spawned a great deal of scholarly
literature, conferences, symposia, and even litigation.

We wish to focus here on several misconceptions, omissions,
and flaws in the argument put forth by Scheurich and his colleagues.
We have organized our response around the following points: the
common ground we share, the flaws in their "historic possibilities"
thesis, their misconception of accountability as a dichotomy,
and our vision of equity and accountability.

[FairTest has excerpted the last two sections and the conclusion,
with endnotes]

Accountability as a Dichotomy

Scheurich and his associates begin their article by asserting
that current discourse on state accountability systems has "devolved
into a strict dichotomy in which accountability is either 'all
good' or 'all bad'" (p. 293). This is an inaccurate reading
of the terrain and further polarizes an already contentious arena
of academic discourse. We believe that accountability systems
are very important; thus the need for such systems is not the
issue. It is the type of system that becomes the point of contention.

The Texas accountability system -- with TAAS as its centerpiece
-- is a case in point. In our view, Texas' system is inherently
flawed. It is a top-down, remote-control system that works against
parents, children, and teachers. The system favors policy makers,
the Texas Education Agency, and school administrators. Most important,
the driver of Texas' accountability system, TAAS, is high-stakes
testing at its worst. African American and Mexican American students,
in particular, are being adversely affected, as shown by increased
dropout and retention rates, less challenging curricula, and
pernicious labeling effects that have their source in "public
report cards" of school ratings.22

In sum, the characterization of the discourses on accountability
systems as bipolar -- "all good" or "all bad"
-- is simply inaccurate. Moreover, the reference by Scheurich
and his colleagues to "the critics of accountability"
is not useful. Thinking of this kind closes, rather than opens,
discourse. We argue that accountability is vital to public education.
However, it must be implemented with care. We need to shape our
accountability systems in accordance with principles such as
1) parents' involvement in their children's schoolwork, 2) the
allowance for teachers not to be fettered to rote, unchallenging,
and measurement-driven instruction, 3) comprehensive diagnostic
testing, and 4) multiple indicators of academic performance.

 

Our Vision of Equity and Accountability

We believe that the Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education
(CARE) provides an excellent point of departure for reconceptualizing
accountability because of its two founding principles. (Information
about CARE can be accessed at www.fairtest.org/arn/masspage.html.)
First, local schools know students best. Second, the state should
not be making decisions about individual students. Instead, the
role of the state is to ensure all students' access to high-quality
teaching to guarantee their success. In the spirit of democracy
and local innovation, schools and districts assume primary responsibility
over both assessment and its relation to retention, promotion,
and graduation decisions. A central tenet is the accountability
of schools and districts to the communities they serve. This
can be accomplished through annual reports based on fully articulated
school reform plans approved beforehand by each school district.

A distinctive feature of the CARE accountability proposal
is a call for quality review boards at state and regional levels.
In this framework, standardized examinations primarily test for
numeracy and literacy and are used in combination with other
criteria in promotion decisions.

In the area of curriculum, the state's role is to define an
essential, but limited, body of knowledge and skills that is
based on a predetermined set of broadly defined competencies.
In the area of assessment, quality review boards at state and
regional levels assume primary responsibility in assessing and
reporting on the quality and availability of resources, opportunities,
instruction, and curriculum in public schools. At the state level,
the quality review board's primary responsibility is to disseminate
and promote the best instructional, curriculum, and assessment
practices, as well as to report annually to districts and communities
on disparities in resources and opportunity. Promoting equity
by helping schools and districts better address their diverse
needs and populations constitutes the state's core mission in
this design.

At the regional level, quality review boards -- made up of
teachers, administrators, parents, state education agency staff
members, as well as representatives of higher education and business
-- would develop a localized accountability system around a democratically
derived set of indicators that extend beyond standardized test
scores. These could include portfolios of reform efforts, including
external reviews or evaluations, provided by the schools within
their jurisdiction. Authentic assessments of student work (e.g.,
student exhibitions, portfolios, products, and performance tasks)
could also be used.

Bringing the model full circle, districts and regions could
also evaluate the state's education agency in terms of its responsiveness
to their needs and the quality of its support in helping communities
meet their equity goals. Such a bidirectional, participatory,
and democratic model challenges the current top-down, results-driven,
single-indicator system in ways that substantively address minorities'
historic quest for equity and excellence.

 

Conclusion

In the conclusion to their Kappan article, Scheurich and his
associates assert that current state accountability systems are
both harming the education of students of color and increasing
equity for them. By contrast, we contend that state accountability
systems (e.g., the one in Texas) are causing much more harm than
good. We believe that the division between Scheurich and his
colleagues and us lies in our differing conceptions of the more
appropriate model. Scheurich and his associates emphasize the
need to have a shift from an "inputs-driven" to a "results-driven"
model of accountability. This explains their heavy emphasis on
raising test scores. We, on the other hand, assert that what
is needed is an accountability model that has a tripartite structure:
1) input (the adequacy of resources), 2) process (the quality
of instruction), and 3) output (what students have learned as
measured by tests or other indicators).23 As Jose Cardenas has
noted:

"Since neither input, process, nor output has proved
to be adequate in evaluating student-teacher performance, where
should the focus be placed? The obvious answer is the distribution
of evaluation among all three. None of the three can be utilized
without consideration of the other two. Past and present failures
in evaluation cannot be attributed to the use of any of the three
phases. The failure can be attributed to the focus on one of
the three phases to the exclusion of the other two."24

In conclusion, Scheurich and his colleagues are advocating
an untenable model of accountability, with its attendant implications
for reform, in which symptoms of school failure need to be "fixed."
We argue that treating symptoms is misdirected and unproductive.
We believe with Arthur Pearl that "testing does not alter
life chances any more than measuring temperature reduces fever.
In the haste to do something there has been no serious effort
to distinguish standards from obstacles."25 Both Scheurich
and his colleagues and we want all children and youths to succeed
in school. We differ considerably, however, on the means we would
employ to achieve this goal.

 

1. James Joseph Scheurich, Linda Skrla, and Joseph F. Johnson,
"Thinking Carefully About Equity and Accountability,"
Phi Delta Kappan, December 2000, pp. 293-99. Subsequent references
to this article will be made parenthetically in the text.

22. See Haney, "The
Myth of the Texas Miracle"
; Richard R. Valencia, "Legislated
School Reform via High-Stakes Testing: The Case of Pending Anti-Social
Promotion Legislation in Texas and Its Likely Adverse Impact
on Racial/Ethnic Minority Students," paper commissioned
by the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Educational
Excellence and Testing Equity, presented at the workshop on School
Completion in Standards-Based Reform: Facts and Strategies, Washington,
D.C., 2000; and Valencia and Bernal, op. cit. [8. Richard R.
Valencia and Ernesto M. Bernal, "An Overview of Conflicting
Opinions in the TAAS Case," Hispanic Journal of Behavioral
Sciences, vol. 22, 2000, pp. 423-44.]

23. See Jose Cardenas, "Expert Report (2000)," submitted
to plaintiffs' counsel, Albert H. Kauffman, GI Forum et al. v.
Texas Education Agency et al., 87 F. Supp. 2d 667 (W.D. Tex.
2000); idem, "School-Student Performance and Accountability,
IDRA Newsletter, October 1998, pp. 1-2, 17-19; and Valencia and
Bernal, op. cit.

24. Cardenas, "Expert Report," p. 10.

25. Pearl, op. cit. [4. Arthur Pearl, "Systemic and Institutional
Factors in Chicano School Failure and Success," in Richard
R. Valencia, ed., Chicano School Failure and Success: Past, Present,
and Future, 2nd ed. (London: RoutledgeFalmer, forthcoming).]

RICHARD R. VALENCIA is a professor in the Department of Educational
Psychology and faculty associate at the Center for Mexican American
Studies, University of Texas, Austin, where ANGELA VALENZUELA
is an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and
Instruction and faculty associate at the Center for Mexican American
Studies. KRIS SLOAN is a doctoral candidate in the Department
of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Texas, Austin, where
DOUGLAS E. FOLEY is a professor in the Department of Curriculum
and Instruction.