Why Accountability Matters

The Dallas Morning News

Why Accountability Matters

By Bill McKenzie / Editorial Columnist December 4, 2012

The reason that school reformers believe in testing and measuring students is summed up pretty clearly in data from STAAR exams last year. According to this story in Monday’s Dallas Morning News: If the standards envisioned for the STAAR exam in 2014-2015 had been used last year, less than half of freshmen high school students taking tests in reading, writing, Algebra I, biology and geography would have passed them. That includes less than a third of freshmen who would have made a passing grade on the writing exam.

Those are astounding numbers. Think of it: More than half of Texas high school freshmen would not have passed the state’s end-of-course exams in key subjects if the bar had been set as high it will be when the STAAR tests are fully implemented in two years.

Some blame high-stakes testing for this dilemma. If we were not putting so much emphasis on the test, or on raising the bar, students would somehow be doing better.

But those in the reform camp, which includes me, worry about what will happen to kids if we are not testing them. What will happen to them if their schools don’t know exactly where they are in key subjects?

To me, that’s the ultimate high-stakes. If kids are sent out into the world lacking the skills to make it, either in a good job or at college, they will have little chance for mobility. Perhaps they will make it, but the odds are not in their favor, especially when the next recession comes along. They could be goners.

Testing is no cure-all. And it shouldn’t be seen as a way to punish kids. But it is an important tool, one that can reveal where a school needs to intervene, including holding a child back. We can move back from accountability if we like, but we will risk the lives of many young Texans.