Time to Dump the Accountability Regimen

I've written about the problems with the school accountability movement before. Now that we have the latest national testing results (NAEP*), there is even more reason to dump much of what we have done in education since the implementation of the federal NCLB** in 2002. And the newly enacted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is an insufficient reform.

The goal in 2002 was to ensure that every American student achieved at a minimum level in math and reading. Testing was the yardstick but also became the tool, as more and more classrooms converted from dynamic project-based explorations or inquiry formats to drill and practice for the tests. Both the shame, as the test scores for schools became public and led to school ratings, and the negative consequences for schools that fell short, amped up the emphasis on teaching to the tests, creating huge divides between poor schools (that worried about their scores) and rich schools (that didn't have to).

If this accountability revolution was an effective thing, at the very least you would expect leaps in test scores -- regardless of whether that meant more learning or not -- in the 13 years since.

But let's look at the results.

1. Test scores have made no significant changes since 2003.
4th Grade Math scores climbed 22 points from 1990 to 2003 but only 5 points from 2003 to 2015
4th Grade Reading scores -- the one place with positive results, increasing just 1 point from 1990 to 2003 but 5 points from 2003 to 2015
8th Grade Math scores climbed 15 points from 1990 to 2003 but only 4 points from 2003 to 2015
8th Grade Reading scores climbed 3 points from 1990 to 2003 and only 2 points from 2003 to 2015
12th Grade Math scores (began testing in 2005) increased only 2 points from 2005-2015
12th Grade Reading scores actually fell from 1992 to 2015 by 5 points

A line graph shows that the national average reading score in 2015 for grade 12 students was lower compared to the score in 1992, the initial reading assessment year, but was not significantly different compared to 2013.
12th Grade Reading

2. Neighborhood schools in poor neighborhoods -- per the punishments written into NCLB -- have closed at an alarming rate. The negative consequences are discussed in this Teaching Tolerance article.

3. The comprehensive high school has disappeared in many high poverty communities, with the arts, business and vocational education programs displaced by more and more math and reading remediation.

So what should we do when our well-intentioned accountability efforts are not accomplishing their goals after more than a decade and are hurting other positive educational efforts? I'm not sure there's any argument really.

*National Assessment of Educational Progress
**No Child Left Behind