NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Opposition Mounting To "Accountability" In Education?

November 3, 2000

To some education reformers, "accountability" means requiring students to take and pass rigorous tests before they are permitted to advance to a higher grade or graduate. Proponents of this policy are numerous. But there is evidence a backlash is growing, based in large part on the recognition that a high proportion of students are flunking the tests.

Skeptics worry the next step is to hold back all who fail or encourage those not up to the task to drop out -- thus creating a logjam of students repeating courses.

Here is how some states are watering down their own accountability standards:

  • With roughly half of students flunking comprehensive English and math tests in Massachusetts, accountability supporters have begun to appeal for postponement of a state law denying diplomas to students who fail the tests.
  • California parents are being encouraged by accountability foes to refuse to let their children take tests which determine student promotions and funding levels for each school.
  • Ohio's main teachers' union is demanding a moratorium on a reading test which more than 40 percent of fourth graders failed to pass this spring.
  • In New York, a requirement that, as of 2003, students pass all five of the State Regent Exams to get a diploma is under heavy fire, because in New York City at present only one student out of eight passes all five tests.

Such a broad-based pullback from accountability suggests that public school bureaucracies are throwing in the towel and as much as admitting they can't educate, critics say. Why, they ask, are the same bureaucracies furiously pleading to "save our public schools?"

Source: Dan Seligman, "Accountability: The Backlash," Forbes, November 13, 2000


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