Popping the old accountability bubble for the common good

John, You bring up really good points about attribution error in your latest. Realistically, anytime you have a system of accountability, you have to wonder who benefits from that system of accountability. Without more involved parties in the decisions, you end up with a plethora of one-way mandates and little discussion. It brings me of […]


You bring up really good points about attribution error in your latest. Realistically, anytime you have a system of accountability, you have to wonder who benefits from that system of accountability. Without more involved parties in the decisions, you end up with a plethora of one-way mandates and little discussion. It brings me of this new byproduct of President Obama’s Race To The Top: The Common Core Standards. I’m not sure where we’re running in this race, but I’m somewhat intrigued by these new learning standards. It certainly has its flaws; critics have called many of the standards vague, and people who haven’t read it immediately dismissed it as prescriptive. One of my blogger friends, JD, said that we should disregard the CCSS (Common Core State Standards) because of the current myopia with accountability and test scores. I agree to a certain extent: if people think that a test at the end of the school year can accurately determine the breadth and depth of knowledge my students know about any standards, that’s dangerous for the execution of any mandate, no matter how well-written.

Yet, I look at our state’s current batch of standards and see a huge opportunity for all involved to transform the idea of accountability that benefits all involved. For one, after several reviews of the document, I prefer this for a couple of reasons:

  • It’s better designed/suited for classroom teaching.
  • There are less standards to cover.
  • Simultaneously, we’re asked to cover the few topics we have in more depth.

Bonus points for the multicultural contributions of the reading lists in the literacy standards. As a math teacher, I’m ecstatic that I’m only covering about 2/3rds of the material currently covered. As someone who’s tired of following pacing calendars to a tee when I know my students still struggle with topics from 2 grade levels earlier, I clamor for and appreciate getting more time to expound on topics important for success in future levels of math. I love showing multiple approaches to topics so I can develop deeper understanding for the students who don’t get it the minute I put the topic on the board.

Yet, under this climate of skewed accountability, we risk losing that richness of understanding by determining that the assessments for these standards will function in the same capacity as the ones given by the test, as one-dimensional gauges for student and teacher performance.  Anyone with a basic knowledge of schools knows the three pillars for teaching: standards, pedagogy, and assessment. The standards and the assessment are book-ends to the complex experiment of teaching. Yes, external factors matter (poverty comes to mind immediately). Yes, people outside of the parent-teacher-student paradigm matter.

But everyone involved has a stake in mitigating the factors that prove destructive for our young children, and much of that is systemic. Here are three quick cultural things we can fix that policymakers should know before we arrive at the 2014 mark for Common Core accountability:

  1. Give us time, and lots of it. When education policy leaders first announced the Common Core Standards, the messages traveled at light speed through district leaders and superintendents that principals, teachers, and coaches needed to integrate the standards into the curriculum well before even the individual states had ratified the document and revised it under their auspices. It’s a helpful exercise for some of us ed-geeks, but the average teacher gave a collective shrug because it came in the middle of the school year…while we’re still under the old standards. Under this, we should also include granting us liberty from current accountability systems in this transition period.
  2. Let us figure it out first internally. Time and again, the most powerful experiences for teachers don’t come from higher-ups telling us what to do: it comes from people within our PLN demonstrating for us the processes behind the standards. Let us ask ourselves “What’s the difference between our old standards and our new ones?” or “How does any of this transform my teaching? What’s my focus now?” These questions come better from the people we know still breathe the air of the collective student body, not people who occasionally drop by. Speaking of which …
  3. Walkthroughs should be put on hold until 2013, and be given new rules to boot. The #1 weapon outsiders use to criticize a school is the walkthrough. After a few minutes in a building, they believe they have a pulse of the entire school systemically. Maybe some people do, but the majority of us don’t. Thus, it’s important for people who decide to walk through to make careful observations, and ask careful questions without judging them subjectively.

Regulation is important to any institutions’ vitality, but if we regulate the wrong facets of the institution, we create chaos within it. Let’s make the Common Core standards mean a new face for how we view teaching. Flaws and all, the standards represent a means for us to grade against the standard and not based on arbitrary political whims.

In many ways, John, the Common Core Standards represent a shift in national education discussion. If we carry the same biases we had before, we might as well show the groundhog his long, overarching shadow, cast over another long season of excessive focus on bubble sheets.

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