Effective Schools

February 2012

February 2012

Dear Colleague:

There are not many public policy issues that claim bipartisan support today. One important exception is that educational accountability has become overly focused on test scores. No doubt, No Child Left Behind was a major force in creating this emphasis on tests. There are honest differences of opinion as to whether the testing focus was intended or not. Now, ten years into the policy effort, most agree that we have gone too far in placing so much emphasis on test scores.


Where do we go from here?


Most observers agree that while test scores may become less central, educational accountability is not going away. I’m betting that education accountability is about to pivot, with the next chapter titled “Test Scores Plus.” This prediction is based on the idea that critics of test score accountability believe that test scores yield a too-narrow and incomplete picture of the effectiveness of the school.


Policymakers are likely to invite educators to step up to the plate and offer descriptions of what, beyond test scores, should be incorporated into school and teacher accountability. I have been on the record for many years urging educators to develop an accountability system that looks beyond test scores. Let’s hope that educators don’t walk away from this opportunity.


Let’s consider one alternative vision that might be offered to the Test Scores Plus approach. Other countries have used school inspectors or school examiners as a way to gather data about the school’s effectiveness. The closest the United States came to this approach to school accountability was the regional accreditation process.


The new approach to school inspectors could use well-trained individuals who visit a school periodically, gather empirically valid information about the functioning of the school and file a report to the governing body. In the spirit of choice, the school governance group could be presented with more than one school inspection model from which to choose. In all likelihood, educators would be more inclined to embrace the inspector’s report if they have a chance to choose from a few models.


Time will tell as to whether education is going to bring a better accountability balance with the test scores.



Lawrence W. Lezotte