Monday, January 20, 2014

High Stakes Accountability or Creatively Inspiring our Students: You Choose

Years ago, as a high school principal, I had a student who was a non-conformist individual, constantly challenging the system, skipping class, and eventually dropping out of school. For all the issues this young student presented to our institution, I always felt he was a gifted person, who displayed his unique learning style in other ways that our school curriculum could not accept. A plan that was developed for him was quite unique and different, holding the promise that maybe we could get him to stay on track, earning his credits and graduating. It involved him being at the high school for morning classes and then going over to the bus garage as an apprentice with the mechanics. It actually turned out to be a wonderful experience, and he worked very hard in the program, until the State told us to discontinue the plan since it would not conform to the standards-based educational plan all students were to follow. In other words, the "cookie cutter mold".

The student eventually dropped out of school, and went to work for his uncle, becoming quite an accomplished auto and diesel mechanic, and he proves the fact that not all students fall into this mold of standardization. His educational performance at our high school contributed to the data that American students are doing poorly on the accountability indexes, but his love of learning and fixing complex engines was successful in spite of the school's best efforts to put him in that cookie mold.

Nichole Greene, President of the Nassau County Music Educators Association in NYS, gave a passionate speech to parents at music festivals, recently, on a similar plight of her son. The focus of her speech was twofold: one as a parent who was told her son would be placed in Academic Intervention Services and removed from participating in band everyday because of his performance on state mandated tests, and two, as a music educator who knows the value of having children participate in music, and arts courses in general. She stated, she is "unaware of any research to support the theory that withdrawing music" or for that matter, any artistic course "would magically improve the math and reading scores for students" not making the established state standards of accountability. "Allowing teachers the license to teach creatively in order to find new ways to reach their students seems to be a much more viable solution."

In many ways, Mrs. Greene makes a very profound statement, that teachers, and schools have been deprived of the "license" to teach creatively. Think about that dramatic comment for a minute and you begin to absorb the enormity of the crisis facing our 21st Century Schools.

Our government leaders over the past 20 years have swallowed- hook, line, and sinker- the assertion that our education system is failing our children. "Policy makers are increasingly turning to evaluation and accountability as ways to improve school performance and accountability."(Harris, Ingle & Rutlelege, 2013) So, in the 1990's interest groups got together to create "standards" for course content areas that specify what children should be learning and the skills they would be able to achieve if taught correctly. The stakes were raised even higher through "No Child Left Behind" and most recently, "Race to the Top" funding. Everyone was searching for a piece of the funding in order to keep their schools functioning. Unfortunately, changes and budgetary accommodations effected the educational program, and now there are more governmental interventions and mandates in our schools than ever before.

Research studies on the topic have not been conclusive that student achievement is rapidly improving. Borman and Kimball (2005) conducted an intensive study analyzing the effectiveness of standards-based teacher evaluation ratings and if they were significant in closing this achievement gap. Their results were mixed, and not conclusive in the slightest. While maintaining and improving goals and standards in educational settings is a helpful strategy, removing students from courses that challenge and intrigue causing inquisitive, creative thinking is something we must not do.

The current trend of high stakes accountability dictating the methods our teachers must use to inspire children is a frightening picture that must be re-thought before we stifle the energetic creativity of children across the country.

Borman, G. D. & Kimball, S.M. (2005). Educational equality:Do teachers with higher-standards based evaluation ratings close the student achievement gap. The Elementary School Journal106(1), Retrieved from

Deuterman, J. D. (2014, January 19). Long island opt-out info [Facebook]. Retrieved from

Harris, D. N., Ingle, W.K., & Rutlelege, S.A. (2013). How teacher evaluation methods matter for accountability: A comparative analysis of teacher effectiveness ratings by principals and teacher value-added measures. American Educational Research Journal, Retrieved from