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Policy Library

Standards and Accountability

We all set goals for ourselves.

To achieve a goal, you regularly measure your progress. If you don’t, then you have no way of knowing if you are making progress.

It is a simple concept followed by multi-national corporations as well as someone simply trying to lose 15 pounds before a high school reunion.

But until relatively recently, it did not apply to public education. We did not measure if our students were learning anything. Report cards, grade promotions and graduations were arbitrary measures dependent on the judgment of individual teachers or schools.

There was no objective assessment that gave a true sense of each student’s academic standing relative to other students. And therefore there was no way to measure each student’s progress or lack of it.

We not only lacked a measuring stick, we lacked goals in the form of academic standards that had to be met by each student.

The more affluent, suburban schools were somewhat protected from this lack of accountability. They had more rigorous academic courses, such as Advanced Placement classes, and more qualified teachers. Professional parents expected schools to prepare their children for universities and had had the option of private schools if they did not. This put their public schools in a more competitive environment.

But students in predominantly low-income schools had few such safeguards. A lack of standards and accountability meant their needs often were neglected, with that neglect covered up by social promotion. The children most in need of quality schools and academic rigor were least likely to get it.

Education reformers have tackled this problem by pushing for more rigorous academic standards for all students, and accurate assessments to measure their progress in meeting them.