The Threat of Accountabalism

Posted by George Thompson

In an article published in Educational Leadership, “The Threat of Accountabalism,” Phillip Schlechty offers that public education in the United States is slowly being overwhelmed by what David Weinberger, a highly regarded author in the field of business, calls accountabalism.

According to Weinberger, “accountabalism is the practice of eating sacrificial victims in an attempt to ward of evil.” He goes on to write, “because accountability suggests that there is a right and a wrong answer to every question, it flourishes where we can measure results exactly. It spread to our schools where it is eating our young - as a result of our recent irrational exuberance about testing, which forces education to become something that can be measured precisely.”

Daniel Pink, in Drive, cautions, “what science is revealing is that carrots and sticks can promote bad behavior, create addiction, and encourage short-term thinking at the expense of the long view.” At the Schlechy Center we have heard many stories from educators who are caught in a world of contradictions and dilemmas where accountability, while well intended, has become destructive, or just plain silly. We invite educators, parents and/or students to share examples of accountabalism, where short-term thinking and actions have trumped doing what is in the best interest of students over the long term.

5 Responses to “The Threat of Accountabalism”

  1. Martin Harvey says:

    Unfortunately many of these agents come directly from outside the institution itself. Though good “thoughts” or Practices, many come with little focused implementation.

  2. Brian Hoelscher says:

    I am a principal from IL and we have an Illinois Standards Achievement test (ISAT) that our kids take. I know that individual years can be better than others. Trend data on standardized tests is a valuable tool to look at how the direction of our local efforts is going. Other than that, local formative and summative assessement data is much more important to us in terms of determininig if learning is happening. I like the idea of having a formative and summative component to the common core testing as it will be a more valuable, actionable set of data that will help us make real time decisions. Using one test score as the grade for the district does not make any more sense than determining a student’s grade for a semester with only one grade. Common Sense must win the day

  3. Phil Schlechty says:

    I appreciate your comment. My “rant” is not against the notion of accountabilithy or even testing. What I am concerned about is accountablism–the tendency to confuse test scores with standards and the belief that all our schools would be great if all students passed the test–whatever the test may be. The idea that all that is wrong with our schools is that too many students are marking the wrong answers gets us all in trouble and leads to solutions that hurt the quality of education rather than help improve that quality.

  4. William Washington says:

    Let’s just set the eduspeak aside for a moment and speak the blab of the pave … for effect, if nothing else. I can get on a soapbox about this particular issue that would result in such a large wall-of-text that the web servers would crash and I’d be asked never to post here again. Nevertheless, I’ll be brief-ish. Examples of Accountabalism? Sure. I’ve seen a few things. How about changing SPECIAL education accommodations so they address achievement test item prep with little regard to addressing the DISABILITY (because we GOTTA raise the scores!)! How about entire faculties that routinely give an EXAM GRADE that is based on an achievement test score (i.e. “You scored a 310, so your term Exam grade is a 78″). How about teachers that print off achievement tests from previous years and use it to function as their term test (because the test is our curriculum …right? no wait…)? How about teachers that show movies for WEEKS after the achievement test because, in their understanding, teaching and learning ends after we’ve given a standardized test. This kind of stuff happens all around me and it just kills me inside. The school board listens to the Superintendent’s “Plan” to improve education by “using technology.” The result? We get hardware and software that is merely DOMESTICATED and used as a means to serve administrative and instructional function; the kids don’t do much with it. You end up with Smartboards that become expensive overhead projector screens and internet-connected computers that mainly serve as a word processor. The most money seems to go into services that offer electronic testing so students can become “test smart” and more familiar with the online achievement test. I see BRILLIANT children being pushed into after-school tutoring programs because they scored low (once!) on a computer benchmark test where the material wasn’t even OFFERED to them in the classroom (because… wait for it… the online test wasn’t even aligned with the school’s curriculum). I see kids entered into the GIFTED programs because they scored high on the End-of-Year Course test the year before. Really? The GIFTED program? The measuring stick has become the standardized test. The whip and chair has become the pacing chart. Here’s your organizational epic fail –> The Superintendent wants to be able to say that “we’re doing something” so, a few mandates (or programs) are mandated. The Principal wants to say that “I’m doing something” so, he puts the programs/mandates into action. The teachers get slammed with a BUNCH of meetings and/or after-school “training” sessions AND additional responsibilities because this will create data and “evidence” that something is being done. Do you see what’s happening here? It’s like people are PREPARING TO FAIL and are just getting ready to wash their hands of the whole thing and put the blame on the KIDS (because…after all, we “did something” and they STILL can’t improve those scores). The “DID SOMETHING” is the new definition of accountability. That’s accountabalism. The ONE EOY TEST is the end-goal. The test has become the standard! 90% of your kids scoring high means that your school is delivering that “quality education” in the eyes of the Social-Political landscape. Well, the IRONY of this is hilarious! Why? If we just focus on the STANDARDS and not standardizing the testing of those standards, the kids would learn more and score HIGHER! You can’t make this stuff up. It’s just so darn interesting. O.K. I’ll stop, but you know it’s funny. :)

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