In a recent commentary for The Huffington Post, Harvard professor Dr. Thomas Payzant focuses attention on how accountability systems for teachers and leaders can be done better in this country. Not only are high-stakes evaluations stressful for superintendents, as illustrated by the high turnover rates around the country, but for students as well, and they set “unrealistic expectations for their parents, drive teachers to cut curriculum corners…and suck the satisfaction out of teaching in and leading schools.” Misguided accountability systems also isolate superintendents, rather than “nurturing the ties to the broader community that are vital to helping our most troubled schools and students succeed.”
The first problem with accountability systems for Payzant is that many are based on the idea that “assessment drives results.” According to Payzant, turning around schools is like baking a cake, with “five key ingredients, including school leadership and quality instruction…interact[ing] to enable real, sustained progress” (see research from the Consortium on Chicago Schools). In Payzant’s opinion, using test results to drive teacher and leader effectiveness is “akin to poking the raw [cake] batter with a toothpick.”
Second, in the rush to roll out evaluation systems, many districts have fallen back on cheap, easy-to-administer tests “that tell teachers little and the rest of us less.” These systems are prone to pitfalls like teaching to the test, or as has been seen, cheating. And despite the emphasis on all students being career- and college-ready, standardized tests continue to “stress basic quantitative metrics in assessments,” rather than more qualitative metrics, such as social and behavioral skills critical for the modern workplace. At the end of the day, students are simply learning to be good test-takers.
Payzant believes that by using broader measures of student well-being, including a truly well-rounded education that includes instruction in the arts, foreign languages, and civic engagement, would “paint a fuller picture” of how well American students are for the increasingly complex world. These measures would not only inform school leaders how well their teachers are doing, but would inform the public in general about how well our communities are doing.
“Rethinking how we hold schools, including leaders, accountable would also represent a good first step toward recruiting the strong superintendents we want. It would make it a lot more likely that the information provided helps them make the community connections needed to effect real change.”
To read his full commentary, please visit http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-thomas-w-payzant/school-testing_b_1248319.html